Jul 4, 2020

George Stone: 1973 N.L. Champion Mets Pitcher (1973-1975)

George Heard Stone was born on July 9, 1946 in Ruston, Louisiana. The tall six foot three inch left hander, attended Louisiana Tech and was a top pitcher there as well.

In 1966 he was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the fifth round. He came up to the Braves staff the following year, pitching in only two games.

Braves Career: In 1968 he began the year in the minors but was brought up into the rotation on July 2nd. On the season he went 7-4 with a 2.76 ERA. His best season for Atlanta came during their 1969 NL West Division title year. He went 13-10 with 102 strikeouts & a 3.65 ERA in 165 innings pitched over 36 games.

1969 Post Season NLCS: In the 1969 NLCS against the New York Mets he pitched one inning in relief in the final Game #3. He allowed a run on two hits in the 7-4 Braves loss. 

Stone fell to 11-11 the following season, as the Braves dropped to fifth place in the NL West. In the next two seasons he would win six games each time, but post losing records both seasons. 

In June 1972, Stone was pitching against the New York Mets when he hit Rusty Staub on his right hand with a pitch. Staub would suffer a fracture & miss 90 games crashing the Mets pennant hopes. At this point he was not the most  popular guy at Shea Stadium.

Stone struggled with the Braves, having his worst season in 1972, going 6-11 with a 5.51 ERA. 

Great Trade For the Mets: That November he was sent to the New York Mets along with Felix Millan in exchange for pitchers Gary Gentry & Danny Frisella. It was one of the better trades in Mets history, up to that point.

Mets Career- 1973 Mets Pennant Season: Stone debuted with the Mets, on April 13th pitching the 5th inning in relief of Jon Matlack, in a 7-1 loss at Philadelphia. Stone began the season in the Mets bullpen, earning his first victory, while pitching six shutout innings during a 19 inning, Mets win at Dodger Stadium on May 24th.

Stone got the win as the Mets scored four runs in the top of the 19th inning. He ended up being a great surprise, contributing to an amazing staff that featured Seaver, Koosman & Matlack.

By the end of May he had made seven appearances posting an ERA of 0.60 allowing just one earned run in 16 innings. The Mets starters were struggling by June & Stone was put into the starting rotation on June 2nd. 

Stone made his first start in San Diego, taking a 3-0 loss to Clay Kirby, allowing three runs on five hits, pitching in six innings. He lost his first two starts but didn’t allow more than three runs in either game, pitching six innings both times.

From that point on Stone was incredible, from mid June through the end of the season he went 11-1, while winning his last eight decisions in a row from August through the end of the regular season. He would toss three complete games & pitched into the eighth inning or beyond seven times.

On June 17th, he pitched into the 8th inning at Shea Stadium, allowing just one run on four hits in a 3-1 win over the Padres. On June 22nd in Pittsburgh he pitched his first complete game, beating the Pirates 5-4, while striking out six. On July 2nd he pitched nine innings in Montreal giving up just one run, but he got no decision as the Mets lost the game 2-1.

On July 14th he beat Don Gullet & the Cincinnati Reds at Riverfront Stadium, a preview of what was going to be that years NLCS matchup. When the Expos came to Shea, he rolled along with another complete game win, as the Mets gave him eleven runs for support. 

On August 1st, he pitched into the 9th inning beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-2 at Shea Stadium. He pitched well in three of his next four starts but earned all no decisions, while he was posting a 2.90 ERA by the end of the month. 

On August 27th, he beat the Padres at Shea Stadium, allowing three runs in seven innings of work.

September Pennant Run: In September Stone played a huge role in helping the Mets capture the Eastern Division. 

On September 1st he allowed just one run in seven innings of work beating the Cardinals in St. Louis. In that game he struck out a season eight batters. On September 9th, although he scattered eleven in Montreal, hits he pitched 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball beating the Expos 3-0.

In his next start On September 15th, he allowed just one run in the first game of a double header at Wrigley Field pitching into the 7th inning. 

On September 19th, in a crucial game against the first place Pirates, he pitched six innings, before getting relieved by Tug McGraw, earning the win as the Mets pulled within a game & a half of first place.

 On September 23rd he gave up two quick runs to the Cardinals, getting relieved in the second inning. But the Mets went on to win 5-2 over the that day remaining a half game up in first place.

Stone finished the year at 12-3 (with a .800 winning %) posting a 2.80 ERA with two complete games, making 20 starts. He had one save, striking out 77 batters while walking 31 in 148 innings pitched in 27 games. 

Strangely he did not pitch any games from September 23rd on, which was the final week and a half of the season. He would not make another appearance until Game #4 of the 1973 NLCS.

1973 Post Season- NLCS: In Game #4 of the 1973 NLCS, against the Cincinnati Reds, Stone was terrific for the first six innings, throwing shutout ball. 

He allowed only two hits, striking out three & walking two. Then in the top of the 7th, he surrendered a solo HR to Tony Perez that tied up the game.

The Mets lacked any offense to support Stone that day, as Fred Norman & Don Gullet shut them down for the first nine innings. Clay Carroll & Pedro Borbon went the next three as the Reds won the game in the 12th inning on a Pete Rose HR.

1973 World Series: In the 1973 World Series against the Oakland A's, Stone relieved Tug McGraw in Game #2 at Oakland. He entered the game in the 12th inning after McGraw had pitched six innings of relief. He inherited a runner on first base & third base with nobody out. He allowed an RBI single to Jesus Alou, then retired three of the next four batters earning the save and allowing the Mets to tie the Series up at one game each.

Stone did not appear again until the 7th inning of Game Seven.

It remains one of the most asked questions in Mets history; Why Did’t Yogi Berra choose to start Stone in Game #6? Would the Mets have won? Nobody knows.

Met manager Yogi Berra started Tom Seaver on three days’ rest for Game #6, even the Mets players thought Stone should have gotten the call. 

It's not as if Berra made a bad choice, Seaver was the 1973 Cy Young winner & the Mets were leading the Series, 3-2.

But Stone was the hottest pitcher New York had in the second half of the season and if he had lost Game 6, Berra would have had Seaver on full rest, as well as Jon Matlack and probably Jerry Koosman for Game #7. Stone's overall 1973 postseason ERA was 0.93. 1973

Quotes: George Stone-"A lot of people have asked me that over the years. I thought I had a chance to start and I was disappointed that I didn't. He decided to go with the three main starters, but I was a control-type pitcher, the kind of pitcher that gave Oakland trouble.

I thought I deserved a chance to start. And even if we lose, we still have Game 7 and everyone on an extra day of rest. Some of the players begged Yogi to start me. I even talked with the opposing players and manager, and they had a scouting report ready for me because they thought I was going to start. But it's best to get over it. Yogi might have had orders from above."

Cleon Jones -"We can all second-guess Yogi. We talked to Yogi about it, and a bunch of us wanted him to start Stone. He was our best pitcher in September. And when we asked Yogi to start him, he said if he did that the writers would eat him alive. But if you win it's different. Good managers take chances and don't worry about what the writers say.

If we needed to go to the seventh game, we had four great pitchers. If we couldn't beat Oakland with those four, we didn't deserve to win. I felt that way then, and I feel that way now."

Not everybody on that Mets team agreed, at least not publicly. Jerry Grote never debated Berra’s decision: "It was his decision, and we were not in a position to question the manager's decision, we didn't have a choice. If Seaver had won, no one would have said a word. I'm not about to second-guess him."

So Tom Seaver started Game #6 and scattered six hits and three runs over seven innings. Unfortunately the Mets managed only four hits off Catfish Hunter as the A's eked out a 3-1 victory. 

Jon Matlack started Game #7 and got shelled early on; the Mets couldn't get to Oakland's Ken Holtzman, whom they had beat in Game #4 at Shea Stadium. Oakland won the game 5-2, and won the World Series.

Stone ended up pitching two scoreless innings of relief in the seventh & eighth innings of that game, while striking out two batters. Stone's overall 1973 postseason ERA was 0.93.

After the Pennant: In 1974, Stone started the fifth game of the season at Shea Stadium, he pitched eight innings allowing only one earned run, but got no decision in the 4-3 loss to the Cardinals. He started out the year at 0-3, not winning his first game until May 16th, which came in St. Louis. He pitched into the 7th inning allowing four runs on nine hits. 

He had his best day of '74 on May 21st , as he threw a complete game victory, against the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium. 

He struck out six batters although he allowed five runs on twelve hits. He helped his cause by getting two hits of his own & driving in a career high four runs. 

Arm Troubles: Unfortunately he was never as effective as he was in 1973 again. Stone went on to lose four straight decisions through the end of July. By the start of August he struggled with arm troubles & it was discovered he needed rotator cuff surgery. His season was over, as he was told not to pick up a baseball until Spring Training of the next year. 

Overall in 1974, as the Mets fell to fifth place he went 2-7 with a 5.03 ERA, striking out 29 batters walking 21 in 77 innings pitched in 15 games.

The Mets chose not to release Stone and welcomed him back in Spring Training 1975. 

He attempted to throw but was in severe pain. His determination was never ending; he worked hard & was back to pitching by mid June. History seems to forget Stone was one of the first pitchers to successfully come back from a rotator cuff injury.

On June 13th, he returned, taking the mound in San Diego against the Padres. Stone was spectacular, allowing one run over seven innings of work, earning a 2-1 victory. He would win two of his first four starts, including a complete game one run performance against the Chicago Cubs on June 30th.

In that game he beat the Chicago Cubs 5-1 and the run he allowed was unearned. Stone was 2-1 & had an ERA at 1.84 by the All Star break. He struggled after the break, on July 21st he served up five runs in 2.2 innings taking a loss to the Astros.

In his next start he was removed in the third inning again, allowing three runs at Wrigley Field. On August 1st he earned a 4-2 win in Pittsburgh, beating the Pirates, but and was hit hard in his next three starts as well.

In September he had back issues & he was back pitching in the bull pen, finishing the year 3-3 with an ERA of 5.05, 21 strike outs & 21 walks in 57 innings.

In February, the Mets gave up on him, he was traded to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Bill Hands, but never made the staff. Although he had made a brief comeback, the rotator cuff issues ended his career at age 29.

Stone finished his nine year career, going 60-57 with five saves & a 3.89 ERA. He struck out 590 batters in 1020 innings pitched, in 203 games (143 starts). 

Family: George's cousin was pitcher Cecil Upshaw. The two spent five years together as Braves teammates. Upshaw saved fived games for Stone as well. 

Upshaw would pitch in the majors for nine years  going 34-36 with 87 saves & a 3.13 ERA in 348 games, all in relief. The journeyman pitched for the Braves (1966-1973) Astros (1973) Indians & A.L. NY team (1974) White Sox (1975).

During his Mets playing days, he was married to the lovely Diana.

Retirement: After his playing days George Stone became a physical education teacher.

1 comment:

Mike from Arizona said...

I am not alone in knowing George Stone should have started game 6 in the 73 world series. Yogi Berra made a huge mistake. Stone was on fire and stood a better chance of winning, but Berra put in a tired Tom Seaver. Even if Stone had lost, Seaver , Matlack, and Koosman would have been better rested and ready to pitch game 7. I remember George Stone very well, as a kid, and feel he was robbed of his chance to shine, and the mets were robbed of a championship title, all because Yogi Berra was afraid the press would be unkind to him in the papers the next day. Dumb decision! Man up Yogi! But its too late. Oh well, this Mets fan remembers you, George Stone, and thanks you for a great year of fond memories of great pitching. Following Seaver, Matlack, and Koosman, is no easy task, but damn you sure did Met fans proud! Much respect! Mike from Arizona.