Jun 12

Today in Mets History: Mets sign Tug McGraw.

One of the most popular players in team history is signed on this day in 1964 when scout Roy Parlee gets the signature of 19-year-old lefthanded pitcher Tug McGraw on a contract.

MCGRAW: An original.

Once a starter, McGraw carved out his niche as a reliever with the Mets. McGraw filled in when Jerry Koosman was injured in May of 1969, but returned to the pen with the latter returned. With a rotation that also included Tom Seaver, Don Cardwell, Jim McAndrew and at times Nolan Ryan, there was no place for McGraw.

McGraw, the last player to play for Casey Stengel, pitched in the NLCS against Atlanta, but did not pitch in the World Series against Baltimore. However, his role now set, McGraw emerged as a premier closer in the early 1970s, and was an emotional leader who coined the “Ya Gotta Believe,’’ slogan for the 1973 pennant-winning Mets.

In December of 1974, the Mets dealt McGraw to Philadelphia in a package deal that saw pitcher Mac Scarce, outfielder Del Unser and catcher John Stearns come to New York.

McGraw continued on as a top reliever and was a central figure during the Phillies’ 1980 World Series season.

When asked what he spent his money on during the World Series, McGraw answered: “Ninety percent I’ll spend on good times, women and Irish whiskey. The other ten percent I’ll probably waste.’’

McGraw was always a popular visitor to Shea Stadium after his retirement, although he worked for the Phillies as a guest instructor during spring training, when he was hospitalized with a brain tumor in 2003. Less than a year later, he died.

The Mets wore a “Ya Gotta Believe,’’ arm patch in honor of McGraw during the 2004 season, and McGraw’s son Tim, a country music star, recorded the song, “Live Like You Were Dying,’’ later that year.

Tim McGraw spread his father’s ashes on the pitcher’s mound at Citizen’s Bank Park prior to Game 3 of the 2008 World Series.

McGRAW’S CAREER NUMBERS

 

 

Jun 01

Today in Mets History: Sign of things to come in 1969.

SWOBODA: One of the Amazins.

There were signs prior to their showdown series against the Cubs that 1969 had the potential to be a breakout, if not special season.

The Mets always had their troubles against the Giants, and finding little ways to win was never their forte. However, on this day in 1969 the Mets completed a three-game sweep of San Francisco at Shea Stadium, winning 5-4 on Ron Swoboda’s bases-loaded walk in the ninth inning.

BOX SCORE

Swoboda signed with the Mets after playing one year at the University of Maryland, and debuted with the team in 1965. Swoboda hit 15 homers by the All-Star break, but finished the season with 19, then a Mets’ rookie record (broken by Darryl Strawberry in 1983).

For all his strength, Swoboda never became a big time home run hitter and finished his career with 73. He will always be remembered for hitting a pair of two-run homers off Steve Carlton, Sept. 15, 1969, and robbing Brooks Robinson of extra bases with a diving catch in right field in Game 4 of the World Series.

SWOBODA CAREER STATS

 

May 25

Today in Mets History: Al Weis homers.

Do you remember Al Weis?

He hit a home run on this date – his first in three years – as the Mets routed Atlanta, 9-1.

Weis came over to the Mets from the Chicago White Sox along with Tommie Agee (for Tommy Davis and Jack Fisher) after the 1967 season.

Weis played on the 1969 World Series championship team, and drove in the game-winning run in Game 2 with a ninth-inning single and homered in Game 5.

Weis was released two years later.

CAREER NUMBERS

 

May 13

Today in Mets’ History: Gentry misses no-hitter.

And, here’s another missed no-hitter in Mets’ lore. On this date in 1970, Gary Gentry threw 7.2 hitless innings in Wrigley Field when Ernie Banks hit a fly ball to left. Dave Marshall gave chase, but dropped the ball. Banks received benefit of the hometown scoring and was given a hit and Gentry was denied his shot at baseball immortality.

GENTRY: Near no-no at Wrigley.

Gentry won 13 games for the Mets as a rookie in 1969 as the third starter behind Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman.

Gentry pitched a four-hit shutout on Sept. 24 of that year to beat the Cardinals in the game that clinched the NL East.  Gentry also beat Baltimore in Game 3 of the World Series.

On a side note, Nolan Ryan relieved Gentry for the save in what would become his only World Series appearance during his 27-year career.

Gentry pitched three more seasons with the Mets but was traded to the Braves in 1972. He sustained an elbow injury and was done in 1975 with a career 46-49 record.

After his release by the Braves, Gentry tried to return with the Mets, but that didn’t work out.  Gentry did come back and was part of the closing ceremonies for Shea Stadium.


May 11

Willie Mays became a Met on this date.

He was supposed to be a Giant forever, but on this day in 1972, San Francisco traded Willie Mays to the Mets for future trivia question answer, pitcher Charlie Williams, and $50,000.

MAYS: Playing stickball is how some will always remember him.

The trade was full circle for Mays, who returned to the city where he began his Hall of Fame 21 years before.

Mays showed few glimpses of greatness with the Mets. They were scarce and he looked old in the 1973 World Series. Still, he was still Willie Mays and he carried an aura about him. He was an electric player, in the field, on the bases and at-bat. And, even in those last games there was always the hope he’d provide one more memory.

Mays did not have the longevity in New York as Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider or Joe DiMaggio, but will always be linked to the city, and as they talk of his catch off Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series in the Polo Grounds against Cleveland, they also speak of him playing stickball with kids in the streets.

Mays finished with 660 home runs, but missed nearly two years at the beginning of his career to serve in the military. Had he played those seasons, there’s no telling how close he would have come to Babe Ruth. The numbers were staggering regardless as he played in that wind tunnel known as Candlestick Park. (For the record, Mays hit .298 with 39 homers and 106 RBI lifetime against the Mets).

Much to my regret, I never saw Mays play in person. I saw Mantle, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente from his era, but never Mays. Television never did him justice. I do know, however, had I had that opportunity, I wouldn’t have taken my eyes off him the entire game.

He was that special a player. I hope you’ll share your special memories of Mays with me.