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

George Heard Stone was born on July 9, 1946, in Ruston, Louisiana, 70 miles east of Shreveport. 

The tall six-foot three-inch left hander attended Louisiana Tech, known more for its football, including alumni- Colts quarterback Bert Jones & NFL Hall of Famer Fred Dean. George Stone was a standout basketball player & baseball player.

In 1966 Stone, was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the fifth round. He was signed by the urging of Braves scout Mel Dider. Dider had previously signed George's third cousin Brave pitcher, Cecil Upshaw.

Braves Career: In 1967 after an injury to Tony Cloninger the Braves called up the young 20-year-old Stone to their staff in late September. He appeared in two games, making a September 29th, start where he pitched seven innings allowing just a run to the soon to be World Champion Cardinals, earning no decisions.

In 1968 he began the year in the minors but was brought up on July 2nd. After spending most of July in the bullpen, he was added to the starting rotation. On August 7th, he pitched a complete game win over the Chicago Cubs.  He won his first two games, took two loses, then went on a personal four game win streak. On the season he went 7-4 with a 2.76 ERA. 

His best season for Atlanta came during their 1969 NL Western Division title year. He went 13-10 with 102 strikeouts & a 3.65 ERA in 165 innings pitched over 36 games. He was basically their fourth man in a rotation of Phil Niekro (23-13) Ron Reed (18-10) & Pat Jarvis (13-11).

He had a great start to the season going 6-0 into mid June. On June 28th, in a game against the Houston Astros, Stone was tagged hard by Astros pitchers, Don Wilson on a bunt play at first base. Stone was not happy & went at it with Wilson in a fight that cleared the benches. Stone pitched the complete game, allowing just a run in the 4-1 win.

From mid-July to late August he did not earn a victory while taking six losses, but he did collect two saves, in that time as he made just four starts. He went 4-1 the rest of the way.

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. 

Early 1970's: 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 who had come over that winter in a big trade with high expectations, would suffer a fracture & miss 90 games crashing the Mets pennant hopes. At this point, Stone 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: George Stone debuted with the Mets, on April 13th, 1973, pitching the 5th inning in relief of Jon Matlack, in a 7-1 loss at Philadelphia. 

Stone began the season, for April & May in the Mets bullpen, earning one save.  

On May 24th, he earned his first victory, while pitching six shutout innings during a 19 inning, Mets win at Dodger Stadium. Stone got the win as the Mets scored four runs in the top of the 19th inning. 

Stone ended up being a great surprise, contributing to an amazing staff that featured Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman & Jon 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 On June 2nd, in San Diego, taking a 3-0 loss to Clay Kirby. He allowed three runs on five hits, the big blow a HR to Ivan Murrell, 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 & pitch 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 to former Met, Steve Renko.

On July 8th, his former Braves teammates Hank Aaron & Dusty Baker tagged him for three HRs in a 4-3 loss, Aaron hit two. It was the only loss he took from June 17th through the end of the season.

On July 14th, Stone beat Don Gullet & the Cincinnati Reds at Riverfront Stadium, a preview of what was going to be that years NLCS matchup. He gave up just two runs to the Big Red Machine & struck out seven in eight innings of work. 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 11th he didn't make it out of the 1st inning, as he was tagged for six runs (four earned) in San Francisco, by far his worst day of the year.

On August 17th, he pitched into the 9th inning, allowing just a run to the Red at Shea Stadium. His opponent again was Don Gullet who held the Mets to a run in seven innings & Pedro Borbon shut them out the rest of the way. The Mets Harry Parker lost it in the 10th, on a HR to Hal King.

On August 27th, he beat the Padres & Steve Arlin 6-5 at Shea Stadium. He allowed three runs in seven innings of work. The game was highlighted by Rusty Staub's grand slam.

September Pennant Run: In September Stone played a huge role in helping the Mets capture the Eastern Division. The Mets went 20-8 in September & the last game on October 1st. Stone went 4-0 that month in five starts.

On September 1st, he allowed just one run in seven innings of work beating the Cardinals 4-1 in St. Louis. In that game he matched a season high eight strike outs. On September 9th, although he scattered eleven hits, he shut out the Expos in Montreal, over 7 2/3 innings. Tug McGraw saved it for his 18th save.

In his next start in September 15th, he allowed just one run in the first game of a double header at Wrigley Field pitching into the 7th inning. The Mets beat the Cubs 5-1.

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 held them down to just one run for the first nine innings. Clay Carroll & Pedro Borbon shut out the Mets in the next three.

The Reds won the game in the 12th inning on a Pete Rose HR off Harry Parker. This came on the day after the Pete Rose -Bud Harrelson fight. Rose was public enemy #1 in New York.

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. 

Stone allowed an RBI single to Jesus Alou, then got Ray Fosse to ground out. He walked Mike Andrews but then got pinch hitter Vic Davalillo to pop out to Millan at second.  

He then got the tough Bert Campaneris to ground out to Bud Harrelson at short to end the game as the Mets tied up the Series up at one game each, heading back to New York.

The Mets took two of the three-night games at Shea Stadium, heading back to Oakland up three games to two needing just one more win for the World Series championship.

Although Stone was originally slated as the starter for Game #6, he did not appear again, until the 7th inning of Game Seven. It remains one of the most asked questions in Mets history; Why Didn’t Yogi Berra start Stone in Game #6? Would the Mets have won? Nobody knows.

Instead, Berra started Tom Seaver on three days’ rest. Even some of the Mets players thought Stone should have gotten the call. 

It's not as if Berra made a bad choice, Seaver was the 1973 NL Cy Young Award 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. Even if he would have lost Game #6, Berra would have had Seaver on full rest, as well as Jon Matlack & Jerry Koosman, all available for Game #7. 

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."

Quotes- 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 Joe Rudi & Sal Bando. Stone's overall 1973 postseason ERA was 0.93.


After the Pennant: During the off season, other teams showed interest in Stone. The Houston Astros offered slugger Jimmy Wynn "the toy cannon" for Stone, or any other of the young Mets pitchers. The Mets declined; Wynn would go on to hit 32 HRs with 108 RBIs in 1974 & lead the Dodgers to the World Series. 

But Mets GM Bob Scheffing defended his actions by saying "We won with pitching & I'm not going to break up this pitching staff".

  In 1974, Stone started the fifth game of the season at Shea Stadium. He pitched eight innings, allowing just four hits & one earned run, but got no decision, in the 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. 

In his second start he allowed six runs (four earned) then on April 29th in Los Angeles, he surrendered seven runs to the Dodgers, although three were earned.

 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. 

On May 21st, he threw a 12 hit, complete game victory, beating the Chicago Cubs 10-5 at Shea Stadium. In that game he was the hitting hero as well, driving in four runs, collecting two hits. In the mound he struck out six.

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. 

On May 28th, he gave up seven runs to the Reds at Riverfront Stadium. He finished up a Mets 11-1 loss at Houston, then lost his next two starts, seeing his ERA peak at 5.28. On July 6th, he pitched five innings, allowing three runs in a 5-2 loss to he Giants. 

In his next start, he was knocked out in the 3rd inning by the Expos, after allowing eight hits & three runs. It was his last start of the year.

By the end of July, he made one final relief appearance before his shoulder problem became too much. It was to be discovered that he had a tear in his rotator cuff.

His season was over, as he was told not to pick up a baseball until Spring Training of the next year. 

Overall in 1974,  the reigning NL Champion Mets fell to fifth place. Stone finished 2-7 with a 5.03 ERA, striking out 29 batters walking 21, in 77 innings pitched in 15 appearances.

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

1975 Season: 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 tear.


On May 15th, in the annual exhibition game against the AL New York team, Stone started & pitched six strong innings. 

On June 13th, he returned to the mound in a regular season game, pitching in San Diego against the Padres. Stone was spectacular, allowing one run over seven innings of work, earning a 2-1 victory. 

On June 24th, he pitched 7.2 scoreless innings against the Cardinals, but Jon Matlack served up a grand slam to Ted Simmons in relief, giving the Mets a loss. Stone 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 the Mets beat the Cubs 5-1 and the run he allowed was unearned. At the All Star break, Stone was 2-1 with a 1.84 ERA. 

In the second half he struggled, 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 then was hit hard in his next three starts.

In September, he had back issues & he was back pitching out of the bull pen. He finished 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 he never made the staff. Although Stone had made a brief comeback, the rotator cuff tear ended his career at the young age of 29.

Career Stats: 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 married the lovely Diana & together they raised two daughters in Louisiana. They now have four grandsons. Diana Stone later became the Lincoln Parish Voter Registrar from 2000 to 2019.

Retirement: After his playing days George Stone earned a degree in physical education from Louisiana Tech. He eventually became a physical- education teacher & baseball instructor in Ruston, Louisiana.

Honors: George was elected to the Louisiana Tech Hall of Fame in 2013.

ML Family: George's third cousin is former pitcher Cecil Upshaw. The two spent six years together as Braves teammates on the same staff (1966-1972). Upshaw saved five games for his cousin George 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) then the White Sox (1975).

Comments

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.

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