Jan 31, 2020

Hall of Fame Pitcher Nolan Ryan- Part Two (The Mets Years & the Trade 1970-1971)

In 1970 Nolan Ryan's first start came on Saturday April 18th at Shea Stadium, in a match up against the Philadelphia Phillies.

 It was one of his best regular season performances in a Met uniform. After allowing a leadoff single to infielder Denny Doyle, Ryan never gave up another hit. He did walk six batters, but threw a one hit shutout, striking out fifteen batters in a 7-0 win. 

In his next start he was almost as good, but allowed one run, (just two hits) over eight innings, but took a 1-0 loss at Dodger Stadium, to Claude Osteen. 

On April 30th in San Francisco, he pitched a three hitter, allowing just one run to beat the Giants & Mike McCormick in another squeaker; 2-1. 

In his first three games of 1970 he was 2-1, had only allowed two earned runs (0.69 ERA) & struck out twenty eight batters in 26 innings of work.

In May he took two straight losses where he was hit hard, first for four runs then for seven runs. On May 24th he pitched another gem, this time a two hit eight strikeout performance against the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium. But Ryan's inconsistency haunted him again as walks & a lot of earned runs had him at 6-6 by August.

He then had a terrible August going 1-4 allowing twelve earned runs in thirty innings. He even blew a save that month, giving up a 9th inning two run double to the Reds Johnny Bench. Ryan made two starts at the start of September but had little success, earning two no decagons in Mets losses. He then made five relief appearances going 1-0 with a save.

He ended the season with a 2-0 loss against the Chicago Cubs, in which he got the start & allowed just on earned run into the 6th inning.

In 1970 Ryan was 7-11 with one save. He struck out 125 batters in 132 innings pitched. He walked 97, allowed ten HRs, threw eight wild pitches and hit four batters. He made 19 starts, threw five complete games and posted a pair of shut outs. 

That year the Mets were in the race into September but faded, finishing six games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates & one game behind the rival Cubs.

In 1971 Ryan began the year with two appearances out of the Mets bullpen. On April 23rd he finished off a game at Wrigley Field & was the winning pitcher when Ken Singleton drove home Tommie Agee in the top of the 12th inning. He closed out the bottom of the inning striking out Joe Pepitone & Paul Popovich.

On April 29th he made his first start & shut out the Cardinals for six innings in St. Louis. He got the victory as the Mets scored seven runs. On May 11th he got his fourth win of the season, tossing a three hit, one run complete game against the Astros at home. On May 29th in the second game of a twin bill at San Diego, Ryan struck out a career high up to that point in his career, 16 batters.

He tossed a one run four hitter that day against the Padres. At that point he was 6-1 with a 1.08 ERA & had fifty strike outs. He & Tom Seaver as well as Jerry Koosman, were making up one of the league's best pitching staffs. He then lost three straight games in June, but only gave up two runs in three of those starts. The Mets were shut out twice by the Dodgers in those games, first by Don Sutton & then by Al Downing.

His ERA was still under two at 1.78 on June 15th as he had fallen to 6-4. On June 25th he pitched a complete game in Montreal to beat the Expos 4-1. He struck out ten batters but did scatter eleven hits, walking just one. 

Ryan then pitched seven shutout innings against the NL Champion Pirates, striking out another nine & beating ace Steve Blass.

From there, Ryan had a terrible three months to end the season. He went 2-10, suffering through a five game losing streak as well as a four game losing streak in August/ September.

In five of those starts he never got past the second inning. But by the same respect in five of starts over the three months (14 games) he allowed two runs or less never earning a win.

On September 23rd, 1971 Ryan won his last game in a Mets uniform, it came at Wrigley Field in Chicago. That day he pitched eight innings, allowing four runs on seven hits striking out five Cubs, beating veteran pitcher Juan Pizzaro.

Then on September 28th, 1971 Nolan Ryan pitched his final game as a New York Met. He never got out of the first inning, allowing three runs, a hit & four walks to the St. Louis Cardinals, taking the loss.

He ended the season 10-14 with a 3.97 ERA 137 strikeouts & 116 walks in 152 innings. He pitched in his Mets career highs of 30 games & 26 starts, tossing three complete games one shut out, allowing 125 hits & a career high 15 hit batters.

Leading to the Trade: By the end of the 1971season, Ryan was becoming very frustrated. Between having limited success on the mound and with his unhappiness in New York City, he told his wife he was considering actually retirement at 24 years old.

Although Ryan was the hardest thrower in the league, he was not as effective as Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman or even Gary Gentry on his own staff. Due to those facts, Manager Gil Hodges & pitching coach Rube Walker did not give him any extra time. They basically gave him the ball & told him to throw it as hard as he could.

According to Ryan one of his biggest problems in New York was his six year, military obligation in the Army Reserves during the Vietnam War. He was flying back to Houston every other weekend which was certainly interfering with his pitching turns.

This was part of the reason he was also being used in the bull pen. Also manager Gil Hodges refused to alter his rotation & rightfully so.

On top of all this, injuries & personal issues were more reasons why Nolan Ryan wasn't happy in New York. It was clear he wasn't going to be a Met for long. That off season he went to the Mets management & asked for a trade.

By September the Mets had been out of the pennant race and the team was changing faces, since the 1969 World Series win. The Mets finished third in 1971 at 83-79, fifteen games back of the World Champion Pirates.

By the next season Donn Clendenon, Ron Swoboda, Art Shamsky, Ron Taylor & of course Nolan Ryan would all be gone. Tommie Agee & Gary Gentry would be in their last seasons as Mets. Maybe the biggest change of all would be the shocking death of manager Gil Hodges at the end of Spring Training.

The Trade: During that off season, on December 10th, 1971, the Mets made the worst trades in their history. It was also one of the worst in baseball history even though it had to be done. Nolan Ryan was traded, along with outfielder Leory Stanton, pitcher Don Rose & catcher Frank Estrada, to the California Angels for former All Star, third baseman, Jim Fregosi.

The Mets had been chasing a third baseman for much of their ten year history at that point. By that time their own Wayne Garrett should have been a good enough choice since he usually ended up with the job through 1976.

In the 1972 Fregosi season, would bat .232 with five HRs 15 doubles 32 RBIs & a .311 on base% in 101 games played for the Mets. By mid July of 1973 he would be gone altogether, after batting .234 as the Mets went on to a World Series with Wayne Garrett once again their third baseman.

Nolan Ryan was going to be traded no matter what, the Mets had a strong minor league pitching staff as well, with Jon Matlack just a year away himself. But it seems the front office should have done better than Fregosi in the trade for such a stud like Ryan. It was obvious the Mets needed a power hitter, if only they had gone elsewhere fate may have been different. 

Ryan credits Tom Seaver as helping him develop into a pitcher instead of just a flame thrower. He helped by changing his high leg kick and developing an over the top delivery, using more power from the legs. Old time Mets fans with a special love in for that period in Mets history can only imagine what it would have been like to have had him on the staff through the seventies with Seaver, Koosman & Matlack as a starting four.

In his Mets career from 1966-1971, Ryan pitched in 105 games going 29-38 in 74 starts. He struck out 493 batters & walked 344 in 510 innings pitched. He also recorded two saves in relief. He had 13 complete games & pitched two shut outs.

After New York: Nolan Ryan went on to become one of baseball greatest pitchers of all time. First he went to the California Angels and suffered, just as Seaver did in New York, on a team with no offensive support.

He pitched in California for eight years (1972-1979), leading the league in strike outs seven times, all but one year. He won twenty games twice, led the league in innings pitched once, walks six times & threw four no hitters. He made one post season appearance with the Angels in 1979, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS.

In 1980 he signed with his hometown Houston Astros and pitched there for another nine years. In Houston he won two strike out titles, two ERA titles and was a 16 game winner twice. He threw two more no hitters, while getting to two more post seasons.

He lost in the NLCS to the Dodgers & New York Mets in 1986.

In 1989 he went across Texas & signed with the Rangers pitching there for five seasons until he was 46 years old. In Texas he won two more strike out titles, threw his seventh record setting no hitter & was a 16 game winner in 1989.

He is the all time strikeout leader in major league history with 5741. He is 14th all time in wins (324) going 324-292 (3rd most losses) with a 3.19 ERA. He is first all time in walks (2795) second in starts (773) & fifth all time in innings pitched (5386). 

He has 222 complete games (113th all time) with 61 shut outs (7th most all time). Ryan has thrown 277 wild pitches (2nd most all time) & hit 158 batters (15th all time).

He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown in 1999, receiving 89% of the vote. In his career he made eight All Star teams, won the 1977 TSN Pitcher of the Year Award, but never won a Cy Young Award. Nolan Ryan will always be part of New York Mets history.

Return to the Mets: In 2009 he made his triumphant return to New York as a Met, to participate in the 40th anniversary celebrations of the 1969 Amazing Mets Championship team. 

He appeared at Citi Field, on television interviews, memorabilia shows & was on the cover of Sports Illustrated with his old pal Tom Seaver.

He is currently the principal owner, CEO & President of the Texas Rangers. He has made them one of the most dominant teams in the past few years & got to two World Series in losing efforts.

Trivia: He is the only pitcher to have struck out seven different father & son combinations.

Remembering Mets History (1968): Nolan Ryan K's 14

Tuesday May 14th 1968: The Mets young fireball pitcher Nolan Ryan would have his biggest strike out total so far just eight games into his career.

The 14 strike out performance would also be a Mets franchise record up to that point. It was an exciting time up to that pint as Jerry Koosman & Tom Seaver were also just starting out their brilliant careers for the Mets.

Gil Hodges Mets (13-16) hosted Dave Bristol's Cincinnati Reds (14-16) in front of 15,671 fans on a cool night at Shea Stadium.

Starting Lineups

Nolan Ryan began the game by striking out Pete Rose & then Alex Johnson. In the 2nd, he struck out Johnny Bench who was in his his Rookie of the Year season. In the 4th & 6th innings Ryan struck out two batters each time. In those innings he also allowed solo HRs to Tony Perez  & Lee May.

Ryan may have saved his best for last, as his fastball seem to blaze more in the final two innings. In the 8th after a lead off base hit to Rose, he struck out the side. He then struck out May & Bench to start out the 9th inning, before getting Tommy Helms to line out to end the game, earning the win.

Ryan went 6-9 with a 3.09 ERA for the 1968 Mets, he struck out 133 batters in 134 innings of work but also walked 75 batters. His 14 Ks on this day was his season high, as he would have four double digit strike out games on the year.

The Mets scoring all took place in the 3rd inning, off Milt Pappas. Ryan began the rally with a single, Bud Harrelson followed with a single as well. With two outs, Art Shamsky tripled in both runners & Ron Swoboda added an RBI base hit of his own, giving Ryan all he needed in the 3-2 win.

Trivia: Reds pitcher Milt Papas was traded to the Red from the Baltimore Orioles for Hall of Famer, Frank Robinson, who would contribute to the mighty Oriole teams of the late sixties & early seventies.

Papas had won 15 or more games four time for the O's, but just once after landing in Cincy. He moved on the Chicago Cubs where he no hit the Padres in 1972, nearly pitching a perfect game.

Jan 30, 2020

1969 World Champion Mets Pitcher: Nolan Ryan- Part One (The Mets Years- 1966-1969)

Lynn Nolan Ryan was born on January 31st, 1947 in Refugio, Texas, a son to Robert Ryan & Martha Lee Hancock a descendant of John Hancock, signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The Ryan family moved to Alvin, Texas when Nolan was just six weeks old. He began to pitch in Little League & tossed his first no hitter at nine years old. From the ages of 8-18 he learned a strong work ethic, working with his dad who besides working for a local oil company was also a Houston Post distributor.

Young Nolan rolled up & tossed the news papers, strengthening that gifted arm. With the arrival of major league baseball in Houston, Ryan was able to go watch games & it was there he was first mesmerized by the pitching of Sandy Koufax. 

In high school the Ryan stories are legendary, one tells of a game in the first inning where he cracked the lead off mans batting helmet, hit the number two man & broke his arm & had the third hitter refuse to enter the batter's box. When he did give in he struck out on three pitches. After graduating a star pitcher from Alvin High School, the six foot two right hander was signed in the 12th round of the 1965 amateur draft by the New York Mets.

Mets scout Red Murff said Ryan had the best arm he had ever seen in his life. The night before he watched the two hardest throwers in the NL at that time, Jim Maloney & Turk Farrell, Ryan was already faster than both of them.

At first, his fast ball was just over 90 miles an hour, but over the next two years he gained more velocity and threw even harder. He was assigned to the Marion Mets in Virginia in the Rookie League. In 1967 he was 17-4 striking out over 300 batters first in A ball Greenville, then AA Williamsport & finally in New York. At Greenville he went 17-2 with 272 strikeouts in 183 innings of work.

He made his MLB debut at Shea Stadium on September 11th, 1966 coming in relief of Dick Selma in the 6th inning. The catcher behind the plate was John Stephenson who had come in to replace Jerry Grote. The first batter he face was Braves pitcher Pat Jarvis who was also his first career strikeout victim. Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews stepped in and watched a Ryan fast ball whiz by him; he looked at Stephenson saying “what the hell was that?” Mathews was strike out number two.

The Mets lost to the Braves 8-2, with Ryan getting no decision. Ryan also gave up his first career HR that day to non other than Joe Torre.

Ryan would make his first start a week later in Houston. He only pitched in two innings allowing four runs, four hits & three walks although he struck out three, taking the loss. His control was to be a problem early on in his career. In 1967 he only pitched in four games at the minor league level. He served time doing his military duty & was sidelined with an illness.

Ryan returned to the Mets staff in 1968 & got to start the fourth game of the season. It was a thrill for him as, the game was played in Houston Texas, against the Astros. That day he had a fine outing, holding the Astros hitless through five innings. He pitched into the 7th inning, leaving due to a blister. He allowed no runs on just three hits, while striking out eight. The Mets went on to a 4-0 victory.

He pitched well in his next outing as well, it was at Shea Stadium against Claude Osteen & the Los Angeles Dodgers. He allowed two runs in 7 1/3 innings, but took a loss as Osteen outdueled him 3-2. 

In his third game, he allowed just one earned run, but five runs overall in Cincinnati, taking a 5-3 loss to the Reds. In May he won three straight starts; starting out with a Shea win, allowing just three hits to the Phillies, while striking out ten in seven innings of work.

Next, he tossed a complete game three hit, one run victory in St. Louis, against the reigning World Champion Cardinals. On May 7th, Ryan struck out fourteen Reds at home, pitching a four hit, 3-2 win at Shea Stadium. At this point he was 4-2 with one of the league's best ERA's at 1.22 & among the tops in strike outs as well. But the rest of the year didn't go so well, as he went 2-7 the rest of the way. He finsihed out May losing twice to the Atlanta Braves, allowing three runs both times.

In the first game of a June 18th doubleheader, he lost a tough 3-2, nine inning outing to Houston's Denny Lemaster. Ryan struck out twelve Astros in the game, but walked seven as well. In Houston the Astros would beat him up for five runs at the end of the month.

He began July with a debacle against the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he gave up eight earned runs in five innings of work. He went 0-3 in the month, then missed all of August with a blister problem on his pitching finger. Ryan became famous around New York, for using a solution that involved soaking his fingers in pickle brine. He returned in September to pitch just three games out of the bullpen.

On September 8th, he allowed three runs in an 8-1 loss at Wrigley Field, finishing up the game. He ended the year on September 20th, pitching two scoreless innings in Philadelphia.

In 1968 Ryan was 6-9 with a 3.09 ERA. He struck out 134 batters in 134 innings averaging a strike out an inning, in 21 games. Control was still an issue; as he walked 75 batters, threw seven wild pitches & hit four batters.

He also served up a dozen long balls. Some batters were scared to death facing Ryan, when he was having control issues, while pitching at such high speeds.

On a personal level in 1968; Ryan married his childhood sweetheart Ruth, and the two would be a team forever. Ruth was a small town Texas girl, like her husband but she eventually moved to New York City to help Nolan with his home sickness & loneliness. The two kept very much to themselves & never quite adapted to the East Coast climate or environment. They never got accustomed to the Big Apple or New York City's City’s fast pace life style.

Ruth always feared for her safety & the thought of raising children in New York was never an option. The Ryan’s became friends with the Koosman's, Jerry & Lavonne. Koosman was also a farm boy from a small town, so the two couples could relate.

Ruth Ryan & Nancy Seaver (Tom's wife) also became good friends, just like their Hall of Fame pitching husbands. The Seaver's certainly were not wild party goers, but they did enjoy the museums, restaurants & arts, New York City has to offer.

That year, Nolan Ryan was also featured in the May 31st, 1968 addition of Life magazine. America was slowly taking notice of what Nation League hitters were calling "an arm that threw harder than Sandy Koufax".

As the 1969 season began, Gil Hodges used Ryan in relief during the month of April. In the second game of the young season, he earned a save against the expansion Montreal Expos, pitching an inning and a half of relief. It was the Mets their first win of the season Amazing season ahead.

After appearing in two losing efforts, as a mop up pitcher, he notched his first win of the year on April 20th. Ryan pitched four 2/3 innings of scoreless relief that day in St. Louis, as the Mets rolled to a 11-3 win.

On April 29h he relieved Jerry Koosman in the 5th inning at Montreal, and went on to complete a 2-0 shutout giving the Mets their first ever win outside the United States. He got his first start of the year on May 3rd, earning no decision at Wrigley Field. He allowed just one run in six innings of work against Phil Regan, who beat New York 3-2. He would miss a month of action returning to a relief role in mid June.

On the next home stand he was back in the starting role, beating Bob Gibson & the St. Louis Cardinals at Shea Stadium. He bested his record to 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA. On June 25th, Ryan struck out ten Phillies batters in just six innings at Connie Mack Stadium. He earned no decision in the 6-5 loss.

On July 1st, he took his first official loss, it came at St. Louis, where he walked seven batters in 5.2 innings of work, allowing three runs. On August 5th he pitched a complete game win, in Cincinnati beating the Reds, allowing just one run, with seven strikeouts.

On August 10th, he came out of the game in the third inning & would miss three weeks of action due to military obligations. He returned at the beginning of September, as the Mets were involved in a heated pennant race with the Chicago Cubs. Ryan earned a relief win against the Phillies on September 7th, when Art Shamsky, Ken Boswell, Tommie Agee & Rod Gaspar all had RBI hits in the 7th & 8th innings.

On September 10th the Amazing Mets took over first place & the next night Ryan took the mound at Shea Stadium. He blew away eleven Montreal Expos, allowing just three hits pitching a complete game three hit, one run game, giving the Mets their sixth straight win. That week he won two games in a four day stretch on the home stand, helping the Mets pass the Chicago Cubs in the pennant race.

At that point he was 6-1 with a 2.95 ERA. Byt as the season winded down, he lost his next two decisions & earned a hold in a relief appearance on September 28th.

Ryan finished the 1969 season at 6-3 with a 3.53 ERA, two complete game wins & one save. He had 92 strikeouts, and it would be the last year, until his final season in 1993 (14 years later) that he would not pass the 100 strike out mark. His control was better; in 89 innings he still walked 53, but only hit one batter & threw just one wild pitch.

1969 Post Season- NLCS: His biggest day in the spot light as a New York Met came on October 6th, 1969, in Game #3 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium. Ryan came in to relieve starter Gary Gentry in the 3rd inning, with the Mets down 2-0.

The Met bats quickly responded, as Tommie Agee & Ken Boswell hit HRs, putting New York ahead 3-2. Ryan then gave up a two run HR to Orlando Cepeda, which gave the Braves the lead. But it didn't last long, Nolan Ryan led off the 5th inning with a base hit & then rookie Wayne Garrett responded, with a two run HR off future Met pitcher, George Stone. The Mets never looked back, they would score a total of seven runs to support Ryan.

On the mound he was spectacular through the end of the game. From the 5th inning on he allowed just two hits the rest of the way, as no one got past second base. 

In the top of the 9th inning, Bob Aspromonte flew out to centerfield to start the inning. Then Felix Millan grounded to short stop for out number two. Next, Tony Gonzales hit a ground ball to Wayne Garrett, he threw to first baseman Ed Kranepool for the last out. 
The Amazing Mets were going to the World Series.

Catcher Jerry Grote ran to the mound to congratulate Ryan, then the two ran for their lives to the dugout, as the wild Shea fans stormed the field.

Ryan earned his first post season win, as he pitched seven innings, allowed two runs on three hits, two walks & struck out seven. At the plate that day, he even got two base hits, going 2-4 and scoring a run.

1969 World Series: In the 1969 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, Ryan once again came in to relieve Gary Gentry. This time it also was Game #3 & also at Shea Stadium. He walked into a bases loaded jam in the 7th inning, with the Mets ahead 4-0.

Mark Belanger was on third, Dave May on second & Don Buford on first. Centerfielder Paul Blair then ripped a screaming liner to right center field. Met fans held their breath, but once again they saw Tommie Agee come up with another one of the greatest catches in World Series history.

It was the second spectacular catch Agee made on the day, making it all look more Amazing. Ryan took a sigh of relief & walked off the mound. He returned in the 8th to retire the side in order, striking out Boog Powell & Brooks Robinson.

In the bottom of the 8th Ed Kranepool hit a HR to make it 5-0 Mets. In the top of the 9th, Ryan got into another bases loaded jam with two outs, as he walked Belanger & Buford, while serving up a single to pinch hitter Clay Dalrymple. 

Gil Hodges paced the dugout but stuck with Ryan. He bored down & got Paul Blair to strike out looking on a blazing fastball.

The Mets now had a two games to one lead & Shea Stadium was ecstatic. Once again Grote ran out to congradulate his pitcher, as the team followed.

 The Amazing Mets went on to win the World Series, it would be the only time Ryan would ever play in a World Series as a pitcher.

He enjoyed some of the success that came with being a champion in New York. He appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, along with the rest of his team to sing " You Gotta Have Heat".

Ryan was visibly shy as Tom Seaver jokingly nudged him as the camera passed him with his name of the screen. All in all the simple Ryan just wanted to go back to Texas & have a quiet off season with his wife.

Former Mets Catcher Who Caught Nolan Ryan's First Game: John Stephenson (1964-1966)

John Herman Stephenson was born on April 13, 1941 in South Portsmouth, Kentucky . The educated Stephenson earned a degree at William Carey College, in Mississippi. The five foot eleven left handed hitting catcher went from A ball in 1963 right up to the Mets big league team in 1964.

He made the club out of Spring Training and appeared as a pinch hItter on Opening Day 1964 as well as in the first game ever played at Shea Stadium. He went hitless in both games. Stephenson would appear mostly as a pinch hitter & in 14 games at third base but he didn’t hit much. On Father’s Day 1964 he was the final out of Jim Bunnings's perfect game pitched against the Mets at Shea Stadium.

Stephenson's biggest thrill that season came on June 29th when he hit a leadoff HR in a game at San Francisco off Giants pitcher Bobby Bolin. Stephenson was back in the minors by July after hitting just .158. At AAA Buffalo he hit .298 the rest of the season, playing at catcher, outfield & at third base. Although he only batted .235 at Buffalo in 1965 he was brought up to the Mets anyway in late June. This time he was used as one of six catchers the ’65 Mets tried as well as a pinch hitter.

The cast of catchers included were; Cris Cannizzarro, Jesse Gonder, Jimmy Schaffer, Greg Gossen & player/coach Yogi Berra at the end of his career. All were used behind the plate at one time or another.

Walk Off Hits: On September 24th, Stephenson hit a walk RBI single, to beat the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2. A month later he would double off former Met Bob Miller with an August 24th walk off hit to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3.

On September 16th he had a career day, hitting two HRs driving in four runs against Cincinnati in the Mets 7-3 win over the Reds.

Nolan Ryan's Debut: In that game Stephenson entered the game as a pinch hitter for Dick Selma in the 5th inning. He stayed in the game replacing Jerry Grote at catcher. He was behind the plate when a young rookie pitcher named Nolan Ryan made his MLB debut that very same day.

Stephenson made history catching the first strike out of Ryan’s career, it was pitcher Pat Jarvis. Two batters later, the great Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews struck out looking on a blazing fastball. He turned to Stephenson saying “what the hell was that!”  

Back when Ryan was first signed, Stephenson recalls; "It was me, Yogi Berra, Warren Spahn, scout Red Murff and Ryan . They told him to throw a fastball, but he didn't tell me. He hit me on the left side of my collarbone and I had to miss a week of play."

Two days later in Chicago he hit another HR, a two run shot in the Mets 4-3 loss to the Cubs. For the 1965 season Stephenson hit .215 in 62 games with four HRs, five doubles & 15 RBIs.

The next season he struggled to hit at the .200 mark all season. On August 4th, Stephenson hit an 8th inning two run HR off the Giants Juan Marichal in a game at Shea Stadium. He began a comeback rally that the Mets eventually won on a walk off HR by on Swoboda. It was a big game for New York since it was almost impossible for them to beat Marichal.

In 1966 Stephenson hit just .196 in 63 games then was traded to the Chicago Cubs to complete an earlier trade. He would spend time between the minors & majors with the Cubs, San Francisco Giants & California Angels through the 1973 season. In 1971 he played in a career high 90 games, batting .219 with three HRs & 25 RBIs for the Angels.

In 1972 he was once again reunited with Nolan Ryan & was a battery mate for Ryan at various times throughout the season.

On July 9th he was behind the plate in Anaheim as Ryan struck out 16 Red Sox & threw a one hit 3-0 shutout against Boston. Later in the month on July 27th, Ryan struck out 14 Texas Rangers pitching a two hit shutout victory in Anaheim, with Stephenson once again behind the plate.

The two were team mates once again in 1973, Stephenson's last year in the majors. In his ten season career he batted .219 with 214 hits 12 HRs 37 doubles 93 RBIs & a 271 on base %.

Retirement: After his playing days he became a long time coach, first at his alma mater, William Carey College (1974-1985). He then moved on to South eastern Louisiana University (1985-1990).

He came back to the New York Mets organization, managing the Gulf Coast Mets (1995/ 1998-1999) & then the Kingsport Mets where he finished in first place (1996). He then went to the Capitol City Bombers (1997 & 2000).

Jan 29, 2020

Davey Johnson: 1986 World Champion Mets Manager- Part Two (1984-1990)

Davey Johnson began managing in 1979 with an Independent team in Florida. The next season he joined the New York Mets minor league organization, as manager of AA Jackson.

In 1983 he became manager of the AAA Tidewater Tides & led the Tides to their second straight league championship. There he managed & observed many young players he would later manage in the major leagues with the Mets.

Johnson had moved up quickly through the organization, and some felt he was passing other more experienced managerial candidates. But, this turned out not to be the case.

Johnson had earned a math degree and was one of the first people to use computers for baseball data. He also pioneered computer-based sabre metrics while his time managing the Mets.

He learned the art of batter-pitcher match ups for platooning and in-game switches from his old Orioles skipper, Earl Weaver. Johnson was not a fan of the bunt and preferred the long ball. He believed in solid pitching & "play for one run, lose by one run."

In 1984 his old friend from Baltimore; Frank Cashen was now the Mets General Manager. Cashen gave Johnson the job as the Mets manager. 

In his first season he took the club from a 1983 last place finish (68-94) to a second place 90-72 season. An improvement of 22 games. Johnson was familiar with the young talented Mets, seeing what they could do while at Tidewater. He had faith in the youngsters and gave them a chance.

His young pitcher Dwight Gooden became a phenom & brought the franchise back to life. His easy going style was also a good mix for the veterans on the team. Shea Stadium’s seats were now filled up again & there was a new excitement in New York.

In 1985 the team acquired Hall of Famer; Gary Carter to join Keith Hernandez, Daryl Strawberry & exciting spark plug players like Mookie Wilson, Len Dykstra & Wally Backman. The team boasted an exciting young pitching staff & improved to a 98 win season. Unfortunately they finished second, just three games back of Whitey Herzog & the St. Louis Cardinals

In 1986 the Mets were the heavy favorite & they ran away with the division from the start. The club played with an attitude & chip on their shoulder to the delight of the Mets fans. 

The rest of the league hated the Mets, as they brawled got into trouble, Partied hard & most of all won. Johnson brought the ’86 Mets to their best season ever, winning 108 regular season games.

They beat the Houston Astros in an exciting NLCS & won the World Series beating the Boston Red Sox in a thrilling seven game set. It was the Mets first post season appearance since 1973 & their second Championship.

After the Mets World Series win, the team underachieved. Johnson went on to become the first NL manager to win at least 90 games in each of his first five seasons, but made just one other post season appearance, winning the NL East in 1988.

His clubs would finish second in all other five seasons he was at the helm. Johnson is by far the most successful manager in Mets history, with only Gil Hodges even coming close. 

He has a Mets record of 595-417 and a .588 winning percentage. He is fourth all time behind Joe, McCarthy Miller Huggins, John Mcgraw & Billy Martin (tied) in winning percentage for New York baseball managers. 

The Mets were expected to win more than one World Series in the late eighties. Second place finishes were not enough for the fans or Mets management.

Looking back, injuries, the aging of veterans Keith Hernandez & Gary Carter, the personal dramas of Gooden, Strawberry & Dykstra, were all reasons for the Met decline.

But, the manager was eventually held responsible, during a 1990 road trip to Cincinnati, Frank Cashen came to Johnson's hotel room to fired him. Johnson was let go after 42 games of the ’90 season with a 20-22 record.
Mets management told the media his laid back style wasn’t cutting it anymore. After Johnson was fired, long time Mets favorite; Bud Harrelson was named manager. He took the team to a 71-49 record and another second place finish.

The next season they finished fifth & were labeled the worst team money could buy. Ahead were five more terrible seasons.

Post Mets Carrer & Mets Honors: Johnson did not attend the 20th Anniversary of the 1986 Championship team, nor the closing ceremonies at Shea Stadium in 2008. He said there was a personal falling out between him & the organization.

In 2010 he finally returned to New York at Citi Field, being elected into the Mets Hall of Fame along with two of his 1986 World Champion Players Dwight Gooden & Daryl Strawberry, as well as former GM Frank Cashen.

In 2006 he was on hand at Citi Field enjoying good memories with the reunion & ceremonies honoring the 30th Anniversary of the Mets Championship team.
Cincinnati Reds: After two seasons out of baseball, the Cincinnati Reds hired Johnson 40 games into the 1993 season, replacing Tony Perez. He revived the Reds immediately, leading them to the NL Central lead going right up to the 1994 players' strike.

in 1995 former Met, Ray Knight was named bench coach, with the intention he would replace Johnson after the season regardless of how the team did. The Reds went on to win the first NL Central title, but Johnson was still fired at the end of the season. He had never gotten along with Reds owner; the eccentric, odd Marge Schott. According to reports at the time; the final straw supposedly was that she didn't approve of Johnson living with his –fiancĂ©e Susan, whom he later married.

 Return to Baltimore: In 1996, Johnson returned to Baltimore, now as the Orioles' manager, for owner Peter Angelos. Johnson & Angelos didn’t get along well & the two almost never spoke a word to each other. 

In Baltimore, Johnson once again was successful, as he led the Orioles to a wild-card playoff berth in 1996 and the AL East title in 1997. Both seasons he got his team as far as the ALCS but lost both times. In the 1997 season he won the A.L. Manager of the Year Award as his team won 98 games (98-64) but drama soon followed.

After his star player; Roberto Alomar missed a charity banquet, Johnson fined him. He told Alomar to write a check to his wife’s charity but Alomar did not, even though he was advised by the Players Union to do so. Team owner; Angelos' was furious that Johnson had not asked for his opinion in the matter. The situation exploded & led to Johnson resigning as manager.

L.A. Dodgers: He was soon hired by the Los Angeles Dodgers to manage for the 1999 season, replacing Glenn Hoffman. Johnson suffered his first full losing season as the Dodgers finished in third place 77-85. The team rebounded to second place the next year (86-76), but he was let go anyway, replaced by Jim Tracy.

 Johnson briefly managed the Netherlands national team in 2003, then served as their bench coach at the 2004 Summer Olympics.

 In 2005 he was manager of Team USA and in the 2006 World Baseball Classic was Team USA’s bench coach. In 2008 he served as Team USA’s Manager in the Olympics. 

He served as a coach in Florida & in 2009 was named the Washington nationals senior adviser. He began working within the Washington Nationals organization in 2006.

Washington Nats: In 2009 he was named senior adviser to then GM Mike Rizzo. Two years later, on June 26th 2011 took over as manager after the sudden resignation of Jim Riggelman. In his first meeting against the New York Mets he lost 8-5 at Washington D.C. but took the series three games to two.

In September he made a triumphant return to New York getting a huge ovation at Citi Field from the crowd. He then went out and swept the Mets in a four game series. For the season his team was 40-43 under his leadership, finishing 80-81 in third place.

In 2012 he took the Nats to an NL Eastern title with a 98-64 record, again combing veterans with outstanding young players. He inserted young star Bryce Harper in the line up with no pressure put on him & had a star young pitcher in Steven Strasburg. He brought some of the biggest excitement in baseball the D.C. area ever saw. 

But controversy between him & Rizzo began, when Rizzo shut down Strasburg after a certain number of innings as promised. Johnson disagreed publicly & said Rizzo had no idea how to manage a team.

Without the star pitcher, the Nats lost to the St. Louis Cards three games to two in the NLDS, as Edwin Jackson, Strasburg’s replacement was bombed in the series. Johnson went on to win the NL Manager of the Year Award once again.

In 2013 the Nats struggled until the latter part of the season, they made a playoff run but fell short in the final days of the season, finishing with a 86-76 record. At the end of the season he announced his retirement.

In his 17 year managerial career spanning 2445 games, Johnson is 1371-1071 (.562 %) winning his one world championship with the Mets.

Family: Johnson's daughter, Andrea, was a nationally-ranked surfer in the 1980's.

She suffered from schizophrenia & medications led to complications of her passing away. Johnson was devastated. 

The year before, he suffered from a serious stomach issue, which almost took his own life. Eventually his appendix was drained & removed & he recovered. He is currently married to his second wife Susan.