Feb 21, 2020

Ron Hunt: The First Mets Player To Start An All Star Game (1963-1966)

Ronald Kenneth Hunt was born on February 23, 1941 in St. Louis, Missouri The infielder was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1959, spending time in the low minors for three seasons. In 1962 he batted .309 at AA ball when he was purchased by the New York Mets that October. 

At first The Mets were using him as a bullpen catcher during spring training 1963. “Larry Burright wasn't doing too well at second base" Hunt recalled "I went up to Casey after a game in the Polo Grounds and said, I’m Ron Hunt #33. I'm not a bullpen catcher, I can play second base. If you want me to go to the minors every day until you need me, I'll do it.”

“I guess Casey took a liking to me, he said, `Do you want to play that badly, son? You're in the lineup tomorrow." 

Hunt became the Mets main second baseman for the next four seasons, and in 1963 he was one of their most steady players in his rookie year. In just his third game he had three hits including an exciting walk off game winning double in the bottom of the 9th inning, off Milwaukee's Claude Raymond.

A week later he drove in one of two runs in Carl Willeys three hit shutout against the Chicago Cubs. He kept his average over .300 with a ten game hit streak, hitting safely in 17 of twenty games through mid May.

 In June he had a four hit day against the Reds in Cincinnati & then the next day drove in two runs leading New York to a 4-1 win over the Reds. He went into September hitting safely in twenty of twenty two games and then drove in runs in four straight games in the middle of the month. For the season he led the team in hits (145) batting average (.272) doubles (28) runs (64) & on base percentage (.334) as well as sacrifices & hit by pitches (13).

Hunt would become famous, actually legendary, for getting hit by pitches, leading the team every year in that category from 1963-1966. The thirteen HBP in 1963 was a club record that would stand for 34 years until John Olerud broke it in 1997. 

 That year Hunt also hit a career high 10 HRs & 28 doubles with 42 RBIs finishing as runner up to Pete Rose for the Rookie of the Year Award. 

 In 1964 he started out the season getting two hits on opening day in Philadelphia. On April 17th, 1964 he started at third base and batted in the third position in the first game played at the new Shea Stadium.

Mets Firsts:  He doubled in the 4th inning, getting the first Mets extra base hit in the new ballpark, then scored the teams first run, when Jesse Gonder singled him home. Three games later, Hunt hit the first home run by a Mets player in the new Shea Stadium.

In May he had a nine game hit streak & hit safely in 13 of 16 games. Hunt was hitting really well getting over the .300 mark & never looking back all year. In mid June he had a twelve game hit streak & had multi hit games in eight of those. 
First Met to Start All Star Game: By July he was hitting .312 and got to represent the Mets  in a starting position as the National League's second baseman, in the 1964 All Star game.

The game was played in the brand new Shea Stadium in New York just across from the 1964 Worlds Fair in Queens. This was the only All Star Game ever held in Shea Stadium.

The anticipation mounted as he awaited his turn at bat in between innings in the on deck circle. Hunt received a tremendous standing ovation from the home town fans when he came to bat in the bottom of the third inning. He led off the inning with a single off Dean Chance. Overall he was 1-3 in the game.

In the second half of the year Hunt continued his fine hitting. He put together an eight game hit streak in July with another six game hit streak in August. 

On August 28th during a wild 12-10 Mets win at Wrigley Field, it was Hunts bases loaded single in the 8th inning that tied the game. That day he had three hits, drove in three runs & scored two runs as well. In September he missed three weeks of action due to injury, returning to close out the season. 

He finished the 1964 season leading the team with a .303 average & getting hit by 11 pitches. He hit six triples with 6 HRs 19 doubles 59 runs scored & drove in 42 runs. He posted a .357 on base % & his six stolen bases were also enough to lead the slow footed club. 

At second base his .979 fielding % was fourth best in the NL, and he was fourth in assists (317) & fifth in put outs (244). 

Injuries limited him to only 57 games in 1965, as he season didn't start until April 30th & then he missed another three months during summer. 

On August 27nd he hit three doubles off a 44 year old Warren Spahn after he had been released by the Mets & was now pitching for the San Francisco Giants. On September 28th, The Mets Dennis Ribant threw 11 innings of shutout ball against the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

In the bottom of the 12th the Mets loaded the bases of Elroy Face & Hunt delivered the walk off game winning base hit, giving New York an exciting 1-0 win.

For the 1965 season. Hunt hit .240 with 12 doubles, one HR, 10 RBIs & a .309 on base % in 196 at bats. 

The Hunt's Grocery Shopping in Maspeth Queens
Quotes: Hunt recalls his personal early days with the Mets: "My first contract was for $7,000, we couldn't afford to live in New York, so my wife Jackie found us a place in Fort Lee, New Jersey. I drove an 18-wheeler for $2.85 an hour in the offseason. 

Casey called me in the office about a month into the season and he said, 'Son, you need a raise.' I said, 'Yes, sir.' He said, 'How's $500 sound?' I said, 'Is that $500 a month?' He said, 'No! That's 500 a year.' So I called my wife - and it's still the same wife, 37 years now - and she said, 'We'll take it!' When the Mets moved to Shea in 1964, Ron & his wife moved into a basement apartment in Maspeth.

In 1966 he had a great May after a slow start, including getting 17 hits on a ten game home stand in the beginning of the month. On May 20th at Candlestick Park he drove in five runs, with a HR, three hits & a hit by pitch helping the Mets to a 7-5 victory.

Another Mets First: On June 5th, he became the first Met to hit an inside the park HR, it came off of non other than Sandy Koufax, in the first game of a double header loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

On June 17th his 8th inning double off the Reds Bob McCool drove in Johnny Lewis & Chuck Hiller giving the Mets the lead, as they went on to win 6-5 over Cincinnati. He was batting .293 at the break & made another All Star team. He had another hot streak in August getting 19 hits in a ten day stretch while hitting safely in ten of eleven games raising his season average over .295. 

On the next to last day of the season, he helped Jack Fisher preserve his six hit shut out by driving in the only run of the game. Hunt's base hit off Houston's Larry Dierker in the bottom of the 9th inning, scored Eddie Bressoud for the Mets 1-0 win over the Astros. 
He would finished the year once again leading the team in batting average(.288) hits (138) on base % (.356) and hit by pitches (11). Hunt hit three HRs with 19 doubles 63 runs scored & 33 RBIs.

In November of 1966 he and Jim Hickman were traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Tommy Davis. It was the first trade between the two rivals since they had moved to the West Coast. 

Hunt was heartbroken after the trade, & took time for him to adjust. On the year he batted .263 & was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Tom Haller that winter. Hunt played three seasons as the Giants main second baseman in San Francisco, leading all second baseman in errors in 1968 (20) then posted the league’s fourth best fielding % in the next year. 

On September 17th, 1968 his HR was the difference in Gaylord Perry’s no-hitter at Candlestick Park as the Giants edged Bob Gibson & the St. Louis Cardinals 1-0. He led the NL in getting hit by pitches in each of his final seven seasons including 25 hit by pitches in 1968. That year he hit just .250 but posted a .371 on base % while drawing 78 walks (3rd in the NL). 

In 1969 he was hit 25 times by pitches, setting an MLB record on April 29, that season getting plunked three times in a game against the Reds. On eof them came from his former Mets team mate Jack Fisher.

 In 1970 he batted .281 with 6 HRs 17 doubles & posted a .394 on base %. The following year Tito Fuentes took over at second base as the Giants went on to win the NL Western title. That December he was traded to the Montreal Expos for Dave McDonald, there he became a popular player again, this time in Canada. 

On September 29th in a game against the Chicago Cubs at Jarry Park, Milt Pappas plunked Hunt with a pitch. That was the 50th pitch he was hit with on the season, setting a new record for batters in the 20th century. Pappas argued that the pitch was a strike & Hunt got in the way of the ball. Legendary managers Leo Durocher & Sparky Anderson had similar claims throughout the year. 
Hunt posted his best on base % (.402%) up to that point in his career (4th in the NL) while batting .279 with 41 walks 20 doubles 5 HRs & 38 RBIs. He only struck out 41 times in 528 at bats, 638 plate appearances, while hitting 20 doubles for the first of two straight seasons. That season he also had career bests in runs scored (89) (8th in the league) & games (152). 

In 1973 he batted a career high .309 with a career best .418 on base %. He received votes for the MVP award, coming in 26th while playing in 113 games, & getting hit by 26 pitches.

Hunt also set an Expo record by only striking out 19 times in 401 at-bats. Late in the 1974 season after 115 games, he was batting .268 with 15 doubles & 26 RBIs but was placed on waivers, getting picked by the Cardinals on September 5th. He got to finish his career in his hometown of St. Louis playing in 12 September games that month. 

In his 12-year career Hunt batted .273 with 1439 hits 39 HRs 223 doubles 23 triples 745 runs scored a .368 on base % & 370 RBIs in 1483 games played. He was also one of the most difficult batters to strike out, fanning 382 times in 5235 at-bats.

Upon his retirement, his 243 Hit by pitches were a MLB career record, but since he has fallen to sixth on the all time list. 

Hunt played in 1260 games at second base (67th all time) posting a .976 fielding % turning 685 double plays with 156 errors in 6402 chances. His 2734 put outs & 3512 assists are both 72nd most all time for second baseman. He also played in 158 games at third & two games at short. 

Trivia: His motto was, “Some people give their bodies to science; I give mine to baseball”. Hunt insisted that he never deliberately got hit by a pitch. 

On occasion, he was said to have worn a wetsuit underneath his uniform to ease the pain from being hit by a pitch. 

Retirement: After his playing days he owned a liquor store, then sporting goods store in the St. Louis suburb of Wentzville. He also raised cattle & still works his farm. 

Since 1985 he runs The Ron Hunt Baseball Association, a non-profit instructional league for teens, & still runs the annual fund raiser in New York. 

Hunt returned to the Mets for the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium in 2008.

1 comment:

lanzarishi said...

Our first real Met hero! Ron Hunt was exciting, mean, never smiled (so I thought) and was a true gamer. We all loved Ron Hunt!!