Apr 18, 2020

Frank Viola: Former Mets Twenty Game Winner (1989-1991) & AA Pitching Coach (2013-2018)

Frank John Viola Jr. known as "Sweet Music" was born on April 19th, 1960 in East Meadow, Long Island. The local Italian American boy made good & came home to pitch in the late 1980's.

The six foot four, left hander went to East Meadow high school & became a local baseball star. He then moved on to St. Johns University, where he was a team mate of another Italian American future Met; John Franco. Franco was already the teams star, another local boy from Brooklyn, & Viola was anxious to meet him when he arrived

Viola soon became a St. Johns star pitcher too, was actually drafted during his freshman year, by the Kansas City Royals but did not sign. In 1980 he pitched for Team USA in the Amateur World Series, coming in fourth place.

In 1981 he went up against Yale University & its star pitcher (future Met) Ron Darling, in a now classic pitcher’s duel. The two pitchers both tossed eleven shutout innings, before St. John’s Redmen won it in the 12th inning.

Viola would officially sign with the Minnesota Twins after being selected in the second round of the 1981 amateur draft.

Viola debuted in 1982 with Minnesota but posted losing records in his first two seasons. He was 4-10 in his rookie year & then 7-15 the next year for the fifth place Twins, while allowing the most earned runs in American league (128). But in 1984 his whole career turned around.

St. John's Pitching Star: Frank Viola 1981
Trivia: Viola would become known as “Sweet Music” in the Twin Cities, after a writer claimed it sounded like sweet at the Metro Dome, music when Viola pitched.  A fan soon hung a banner at the Dome & the name stuck. That banner is now part of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Viola would throw one of the best change ups of his era. In 1984 he won 18 games going 18- 12 (4th most in the AL) posting a 3.21 ERA (10th best in the AL) . 

He pitched 257 innings striking out 149 batters. He followed that up with another 18 win season (18-14) (3rd best in the AL) pitching 250 innings, striking out 135 batters posting a 4.09 ERA.

He would win 16 or more games five straight seasons, while pitching over 245 innings six straight times. In 1985, he went into the history books giving up Rod Carew’s 3000th hit.

In 1987 he led the Twins staff going 17-10 (8th most wins in the AL) posting the league’s second best ERA at 2.90. He struck out 197 batters (7th in the AL) pitching 251 innings (10th in the AL). That year Manager Jim Kelly & his Twins surprised everyone by winning the World Series.

Post Season: In the 1987 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers, Viola  got the Game #1 start against Doyle Alexander. He allowed five runs over eight innings, but got no decision as the Twins eventually won the game scoring four runs in the 8th inning. He returned to get the win in Game #4 at Detroit, although he only lasted five innings giving up three runs & four walks.

But Viola earned national attention as he starred in the World Series, against the St. Louis Cardinals. He would pitch in three games going 2-1 with 3.72 ERA in 19 innings pitched.

In Game #1 in Minnesota he rolled along to a 10-1 win, striking out five allowing just five hits over eight innings. He had a rough Game #4 taking the loss, after allowing five runs in 3.1 innings at Busch Stadium.

He was the Game #7 hero, pitching 8 innings allowing only two runs on six hits, striking out seven Cardinals in the wild Metro dome. The Twins took the lead in 6th inning on a Greg Gagne RBI single & topped off the 4-2 win on a Dan Gladden double in the 8th. Viola earned the World Series MVP honors. 

He followed up his MVP World Series performance by winning the 1988 A.L. Cy Young Award. Viola led the league in wins going 24-7 with a 2.46 ERA (2nd in the AL). He struck out 193 batters (3rd in the AL)walking only 54 in 255 innings pitched (6th in the AL) in 36 starts (3rd in the AL).

He threw seven complete games, for the fourth straight season and tossed a pair of shut outs. This season he made the first of three All Star appearances. 

In 1989 he fell off to an 8-12 record by late July. On the 1989 trade deadline he came home, as he was sent to the New York Mets in a blockbuster trade.

Viola arrived in exchange for pitchers; Rick Aguilera, David West, and Kevin Tapani. His arrival at Shea Stadium came with high expectations, as he joined a star studded staff of Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, David Cone, Sid Fernandez & Bobby Ojeda.

Viola debuted with the Mets on August 2nd in St. Louis & went out to beat the Cardinals 4-3, pitching 8 innings allowing two runs on four hits.

 He then took a no decision at Philadelphia after allowing just one run in seven innings. His debut at Shea resulted in a loss & he then took three straight losing decisions.

On August 28th, he tossed a three hit shut out in Los Angeles, out dueling Orel Hershiser & the Dodgers 1-0, as Howard Johnson drove in the games only run. In September he went 3-2, closing out the season with a 6-2, complete game win over the Pirates in Pittsburgh.

The Mets fell six games short of the 1st place; Chicago Cubs and missed the playoffs once again. Viola himself went 5-5 since coming to the Mets, adjusting to the changes. No one on the Mets staff had more than 14 wins. Overall on the season Viola was 13-17 with a career high 211 strikeouts.

In 1990 he would have the season, he was brought to New York for. He started out with a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second game of the season at Shea. He started put the year, winning his first seven starts going into mid May. 

On May 2nd, he threw a six hit shut out against the eventual World Champion Cincinnati Reds. Two starts later, he blanked the Dodgers on a four hitter at Shea Stadium.

After taking his first two losses, he went on win another six of seven games, including a four game win streak into July. In two wins of that stretch, he threw complete games, topped off by a five hit shut out over the Houston Astros at Shea. In a three game stretch he allowed just three earned runs over 26 innings.

At the All Star break he was 13-4 with a 2.39 ERA, he was elected to All Star team but the Dodgers' Bob Welch got the start. Viola pitched a scoreless 5th inning in the NL's 2-0 shout out, in the game played at Wrigley Field in Chicago. After the break he struggled going 7-8 but on the final day of the season, he beat the Pirates in Pittsburgh for his twentieth win of the year.

Viola became the fifth Mets pitcher in team history to win twenty games, a feat that would not be accomplished again until 22 years layer in 2012, when R.A. Dickey won his twentieth.

Overall Viola had a great year leading the Mets staff in most categories, winning twenty games going 20-12 (second most wins in the league). He led the league in starts (35) as well as innings pitched (249). He came in third place for the Cy Young Award, as the Mets finished second again even though they won 91 games, four games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.

That season Dwight Gooden had won 19 games & David Cone won 14 games for the strong staff.

1991 started out great for everyone, the Mets were in contention early on as Viola got off to a 6-2 start by the end of May. He won eleven of his first sixteen decisions posting a 2.34 ERA. He made the last of his three All Star appearances, pitching the 5th inning of the 4-2 NL loss at Toronto's SkyDome.

After that everything fell apart, the Mets would end up in 5th place losing 91 games their worst showing in nine seasons.

Viola would only win two more games after the All Star break while losing ten more times. He allowed the most hits (259) runs (112) & HRs (25) on the staff. He ended the season at 13-15, giving up the most hits by any NL pitcher, while posting a 3.97 ERA.

He was granted free agency and left New York to sign with the Boston Red Sox. In his Mets career he went 39-32 over parts of three seasons, he posted a 3.31 ERA with 387 strikeouts in 82 games pitched.

In Boston in 1992, he won 13 games (13-11) with a 3.44 ERA. He won eleven games the next year (11-8) with a 3.14 ERA, but never regained his Cy Young form.

In Spring Training 1993 he threw a combined no hitter with Cory Bailey against the Philadelphia Phillies. He then had arm trouble which led to Tommy John surgery in 1993. He returned to have two brief stints in Cincinnati with the Reds in 1995, pitching three games at the major league level. In 1996 he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, going 1-3 in six starts before retiring at age 36 in 1996. 

Career Stats: Viola pitched in 15 seasons, making three All Star teams, won an AL Cy Young Award & made one post season.

He made 420 starts (111th all time), going 176-150 (172nd most wins all time) with a 3.73 ERA. He pitched 2836 innings (165th all time), with 1844 strikeouts (108th all time). He tossed 16 shut outs with 74 complete games. In his career he allowed 2827 hits  with 864 walks (185th all time) & 294 HRs (64th all time).

Viola with Noah Syndergaard
at 2014 Mets Spring Training
Retirement & Coaching: Viola first coached baseball in Orlando Florida & coached his daughters at schools in East Meadow, Long Island. In 2009 he worked at the Cleveland Indians Spring Training camp & did some broadcasting for the Boston Red Sox on NESN.

In 2011 he was back n the Mets organization, as pitching coach for the Brooklyn Cyclones. He spent 2012-2013 with the Mets affiliate, Savannah Sand Gnats.

In 2013 he was promoted to the AAA level as pitching coach for Las Vegas & joined the Mets at Spring Training. He was a tutor to the Mets top minor league prospect Noah Syndergaard & Jacob deGrom, who would be the 2014,  NL Rookie of the Year & win two Cy Young Awards.

During a medical exam a heart problem was detected that required surgery. On April 1st, Viola underwent successful heart surgery .

Mets GM Sandy Alderson said "I did talk to Frank yesterday, He certainly wants to be back, but I think we'll let the doctors dictate exactly when he comes back. When he's ready and he's able, I'm sure he'll be out there, but we want to make sure he's fully recovered from this surgery first."

Viola began to feel better & yearned to get back to work coaching at Las Vegas. Viola returned to work in June, coaching his fine young pitching staff consisting of future stars  Noah Syndergaard & Jeurys Familia. 

Viola was with the Mets at Spring Training 2015 & returned as the 51's pitching coach. That year he saw Syndergaard & the newest Mets star pitching prospect; Steven Matz both break into the Major Leagues & get to a World Series.

Quotes: "I enjoy things a heck of a lot more than I did before," said Viola, who recently became a first-time grandfather. 

"And believe it or not -- my wife might argue this one -- but I have a lot more optimism in my life than I did before. I just realized how fortunate I was, and how much I really love doing what I'm doing. When you know you're going through a life and death thing and your first thought is, 'God, I'm going to miss these kids,' I know I'm doing something because I love doing it."

As a projection for the 2016 season, Viola told WFAN Radio host, Steve Somers "As long as our pitching staff remains healthy, and we get a healthy Zack Wheeler back sometime in 2016, it is gonna be so much fun to watch these kids grow up. 

One’s gonna try topping the other, and they’re gonna have friendly competition. They’re gonna have everything positive going for them". 

“This could be — and I was there in ’69 when the Mets put a pretty good rotation together with (Tom) Seaver and (Jerry) Koosman and (Jon) Matlack and (Gary) Gentry and all that for the World Series. 

I think this one, in 2016, could match any rotation the Mets have ever put out there. That’s how much confidence and ability I think they possess".

After many changes in the Mets system following the 2017 season, Viola swapped spots with Glenn Abbot as pitching coach. Viola was pitching coach at AA Binghamton in 2018.

Post Mets Organization Career: In 2019 he parted ways with the Mets organization & became pitching coach in an Independent League in North Carolina. Viola is very outspoken & against many of the experimental new rules used in the Atlantic League baseball. 

He feels it is unfair for the young players to have to subjected to rules that will never be implemented in the major leagues, due to the Players Union. In 2019, Viola became the first person to ever get ejected for arguing with a robot umpire, which was being worn by the human umpire behind home plate. In 2020 he is the High Point Rockers bench coach.

Viola Family: Frank & his wife Kathy have been married since the mid eighties, they have three children.

 His daughter Brittany Viola is a pro diver in Miami. She was a two time NCAA Champion & was a member of the 2012 USA Olympic Team. In 2009 she won second place in diving at the US Grand Prix in Ft. Lauderdale.

In 2011 Viola captured the senior women's platform championship in Los Angeles. In 2014 she gave Frank his first grandchild.

His other daughter Kelly played volleyball at Winthrop University & is now a college volleyball coach.

His son Frank Viola III, started pitching in the Chicago White Sox organization in 2004, but Tommy John surgery set back his career.

One day sitting around with his Dad & other Twins legends, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew & Kent Hrbek they were talking about how hard it was to hit knuckle baller Hoyt Wilhelm. Oliva suggested Viola III learn to throw one. 

Viola III worked on the knuckle ball with the help of R.A. Dickey & Tim Wakefield whom he met through Sox broadcaster; Hawk Harrelson. to revive his career. 

In 2014 he returned to pitch in the Toronto organization but was released in late July. In 2015 he signed with the Chicago White Sox organization then retired at the end of the year.

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