Comfortably Zoned in a Vat o’ Pine Tar… Mets’ Chapter

June 24, 2021 at 2:16 pm (Comfortably Zoned in a Vat o' Pine Tar)

Meet the Mets!

“I don’t think we could have done it without Gil.  He was such a great leader and handled people so well. He just had something about him that everybody respected him so much.”

Duffy Dyer.

Catching up with Duffy Dyer

October 2016

Ralph Tyko talks with Duffy Dyer about his time with the Mets and the way the game has changed since he played.

Ralph Tyko: Duffy, tell us about your journey to the Mets.

Duffy Dyer: I was born in Ohio but grew up in Arizona. I signed with the Mets after my junior year at Arizona State University. Reggie Jackson and I both signed contracts the same year. Reggie started out playing football as a safety but switched to baseball and broke most of Rick Monday’s records at ASU.

Ralph Tyko: Where did you start out in the Mets organization?.

Duffy Dyer: I originally played Double-A ball in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Bill Verdon was my first manager. He was great to start with. He helped me with the fundamentals.

Clyde McCullough was the catching instructor in the Mets system at the time. He didn’t make too many changes in my defensive style. I caught with the old style catchers glove that didn’t have a break in it so you had to catch the ball with two hands. This was a few years before Johnny Bench made one-handed catching so popular.

Yogi Berra is actually the one who got me to change to a different glove. I was playing catch with him one day in Spring Training and he tossed me his glove and said, ‘Here use this.’ And I told him I didn’t think I could use that kind of glove because I couldn’t get the ball out fast enough. I had average arm strength, so I had to get the ball out of the pocket as quickly as possible. So I was a little reluctant at first but Yogi stayed on me and sooner or later I changed gloves and became more of a one-handed catcher.

Ralph Tyko: It’s amazing how things are passed down. Yogi was taught by Bill Dickey. What kind of a coach was Yogi?

Duffy Dyer: He helped me a lot defensively and calling games. Just talking to me, about the mental part of catching, working with pitchers and calling games, he really helped me a great deal.

And we also had Rube Walker as out pitching coach, who was a former catcher, and Joe Pignatano was the bullpen coach and he was a former catcher and Gil Hodges started out as a catcher before they moved him to first base. So there were a lot of opportunities to learn the position. They really helped me a great deal with the mental part of the game, calling games and working with pitching staffs

As far as Yogi as a hitting coach, he was definitely a player’s coach. Everybody loved him because of his personality and he was never real serious. Even when he was trying to help you, he’d be serious, but with a little humor attached to it.

The only thing I remember Yogi saying about hitting was,  ‘See the ball, hit the ball!’ And that’s exactly how he hit. If he saw it he swung at it. But he was a great coach. If you came to the park in a bad mood or if you were down, all you had to do was hang around Yogi and your mood would change.

Ralph Tyko: One of the people in the Mets organization who doesn’t get a lot of credit for taking a last place team in 1962 and building them into World Series Champions seven years later is Whitey Herzog. Did you have any contact with him?

Duffy Dyer; Yes I did! When I was in the minor leagues he was the Director of Player Development and he had a lot to do with my career. Because when I first went to Double-A, I was in way over my head offensively. The Eastern League was known for its pitching, it’s cold, the ballparks are big and I really struggled with the bat. I held my own defensively, but I came home after that season and for the first time in my life I didn’t know if I could do this or not. It was very frustrating because if I couldn’t  hit in Double-A how am I ever gonna move up?

But Whitey called me and brought me down to the Instructional League. He said that they would work on my hitting and told me to keep my head up. He said I was going to be in the Big Leagues in three years, So I went to the Instructional League for two straight years and he was right, I gradually got a little bit better and I was in the Big Leagues in two and a half years. So I owe him a lot. I don’t know if I would have made it without Whitey.

Ralph Tyko: How did you like playing in New York? Were you able to adjust after living in the south west?

Duffy Dyer: It was actually pretty hard. My wife and I moved to New York right before opening day in 1969. We had a tough time finding an apartment, but Tug McGraw and Jerry Koosman helped us out. We wound up living near Shea by LaGuardia Airport.

Ralph Tyko:  When you came up you were not expecting the Miracle Mets of 1969, I am sure!

Duffy Dyer: No, especially being a rookie, I didn’t know what to expect. I was just in awe of being in the big leagues. And going to all the other ball parks and seeing all the other great players. I had been up for a month in 1968 so I had a little taste of it then. But I was just in awe of the whole thing.

I remember in Spring Training there were a few of the guys who were very optimistic, because of our pitching, and I know we were really looking to make a big improvement over 1968.

Ralph Tyko: How big a factor was Gil Hodges?

Duffy Dyer: I don’t think we could have done it without Gil I don’t think we could have done it without him.  He was such a great leader and handled people so well. He just had something about him that everybody respected him so much..  He was such a great leader and handled people so well. He just had something about him that everybody respected him so much. And he did a great job of keeping us motivated. He left us alone. He would stay in his office most of the time and very seldom came out and hung around with the players. He was just the right guy in the right place at the right time. The way he ran the pitching staff, the way he platooned some players and rested some guys. I don’t think we would have done it without him.

Ralph Tyko: What was your first day in the big leagues like?

Duffy Dyer: I played my first game in Philadelphia; we had a double header. Four of us were called up at the end of the year, Amos Otis, Don Shaw, Bobby Heise, and myself. We took a cab from the airport to Connie Mack Stadium, and we had our luggage with us. The cabbie told us to get inside the stadium as quickly as possible and don’t be hanging around outside because it wasn’t a very nice area.

So we found the visitor’s locker room and we walked in and our locker room in Jacksonville was a lot nicer than the one in Connie Mack Stadium. It was small and crowed and it was really kind of a let down. I was thinking, my goodness this is the big leagues?

Gil had me catch the first game of the doubleheader. I remember the dugouts were pretty small too, I stood up and hit my head on the top of the dugout. My first time up I faced Chris Short and stuck out, but I got a single off of him the next time for my first hit. And that’s something I’ll never forget. But we lost 3-1, Dick Selma pitched six or seven innings and he had good stuff.

Ralph Tyko: They later traded Amos Otis to Kansas City for Joey Foy.

Duffy Dyer: Yeah, they were desperate for a third baseman. They had asked Amos to play third but he said he didn’t want to, he was an outfielder, so he was traded for Foy.

Ralph Tyko: Do you have any background on the Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi deal?

Duffy Dyer: Yeah,  he and his wife Ruth, did not like New York and he went to the Mets and asked to be traded because he was just not comfortable there.

Ralph Tyko: Do you remember when baseball changed from having workhorse pitchers who took pride in finishing games to the way it is today with pitch counts,  inning-specific relievers, and Tommy John surgeries?

Duffy Dyer: I think that once weight training became popular, that had something to do with the injuries. And I know there are a lot of great weight training coaches out there that know what they’re doing so maybe I’m way off base. But I really think that the players train a lot differently than we did and I think that leads to a lot more arm, shoulder and leg injuries.

In our day we weren’t allowed to touch weights. All we did was sit-ups and push-ups and a lot of running.

And I think they started putting in pitch limits because of agents and the  enormous salaries. They’re trying to limit innings and the number of pitches with an eye towards their next contract.

And I also think that too many young kids start throwing breaking balls too early because a lot of kids are hurting their arm before they even get out of high school.

Ralph Tyko: Is pitching what has changed most about the game?

Duffy Dyer: The way they use pitchers now, you’ve got specific pitchers for specific innings. Players nowadays have to know their role. If you’re a manager, you have to tell each player their role. What inning they’re gonna pitch. When we played if you were a starter you knew you would start and you pitch as long as you could. If you were a reliever, you didn’t know if you were going into the game in the fourth or eight inning. But today pitching is so specialized and that has changed the game a lot.

Ralph Tyko: You finished up you career with Detroit after 12 years in the National League. What was the difference between the two leagues back then?

Duffy Dyer: They threw a lot more off-speed pitches in the American League. They didn’t have as many hard throwers as the National League. The National League challenged you more with fastballs. It was different, both as a hitter and calling a game as a catcher.

Ralph Tyko: How important is the mental part of the game? Have you seen any guys fail because they couldn’t handle the pressure or keep the mental aspect of the game together?

Duffy Dyer: I’ve managed in the minors and coached in the big leagues for a long time and I’ve seen  a lot of that. Yogi once said, ‘Baseball is ninety percent mental, the other half is physical,’ and he was right.

Their mental approach has cost a lot of guys their careers. Or they couldn’t relax,  and I’ve seen player that couldn’t handle playing in New York. It cost them their career. Some players were too emotional and just ran themselves out of the game. A lot of players have the physical ability but it’s all about how you use it and your mental approach and being able to slow the game down a little and being able to handle stressful situations. Unfortunately, there are a lot of players with great ability, who just couldn’t handle the pressures that come along with the game.

Rod Gaspar

August 2016

Ralph Tyko, Alan Blumkin and Marty Rose welcome former Major League outfielder, Rod Gaspar. Topics of conversation include Rod’s path to the major leagues, his recollections of the Met’s miracle, championship [1969] season, and the correct way to pronounce his name.

Ralph Tyko: Rod, before we get started, what is the preferred way to pronounce your last name?  When you played for the Mets, Lindsey Nelson on TV called you Gas-PAR, but Bob Murphy on the radio side always pronounced it Gas-PER.  Which do you prefer?

Rod Gaspar: We pronounce it Gas-PER, but Gas-PAR is fine. The proper pronunciation is probably Gas-PAR, but for whatever reason my parents always said Gas-PER.

Ralph Tyko: Legend had it that during the 1969 World Series, Frank Robinson the star of the Baltimore Orioles didn’t recognize  you and said somewhat sarcastically, ‘Who the heck is Rod Gaspar?’

Rod Gaspar: A lot of people didn’t recognize me back then so it was not a big deal to me.

Ralph Tyko: But it was a big deal in the press because he was kind of mocking the team as a bunch of unknowns who didn’t belong there.

Marty Rose: The Mets history, prior to 1969, was just horrible. What was the feeling on the team at the start of the 1969 season and was there any feeling at all about getting to the World Series?

Rod Gaspar: I think things changed in 1968 when they brought Gil Hodges in as manager. I’m sure if you ask all my buddies on the team they’ll tell you the same thing.

When Gil came over there was a whole new attitude and new outlook. He had always been a winner with the Dodgers and he brought that attitude to that young Mets team. And we were certainly a young team, we could have fielded a team of players under 24 years of age.

We were young and I don’t think we were smart enough to let the previous history effect us.  As Robinson said, we were a bunch of no names, but so what? It s not the names of the players, it’s how the players play the game.

We may have been a bunch of no-names but we could play ball, which we did in sweeping Atlanta and then winning four of five from the Orioles, who were heavily favored. All anyone knew about the Mets was Tom Seaver because Nolan Ryan really hadn’t made an impact yet. But we had outstanding defense, we had guys who could hit in the clutch, great pitching and the best manager in baseball

Gil ran that team like a business. We all knew what our jobs were. He didn’t have to tell us.

Ralph Tyko: How much of a difference did Donn Clendenon make?

Rod Gaspar:  He gave us some big-time power. Donn did a tremendous job. Tommy Agee had 26 home runs as a lead off hitter but not too many of the other guys were big power hitters

Ralph Tyko: What was the relationship between Gil Hodges and Cleon Jones like?

Rod Gaspar: I guess you’re referring to when Gil took him out of the game in the middle of an inning. Gil was the boss. It’s not like today’s game where the players or their agents run the show and managers are almost like puppets.  But there was a fly ball to left and Cleon didn’t get to it and Hodges started walking out towards the pitcher’s mound, so the pitcher thought he was coming to see him. And then he walked past the mound towards the shortstop and Buddy Harrelson’s thinking ‘What did I do?’ But he kept walking out to Cleon in left and he said come on Cleon lets go. And Cleon followed him off the field. Gil kept him out for a couple of games after that. Gil never made anything of it. He just said that Cleon was hurt and after that we took off again and Cleon ended up leading the league in hitting for quite a while. He hit .340 that year.

Ralph Tyko: Yogi was a coach on that team and later took over when Gil passed away. Tell me some Yogi stories.

Rod Gaspar: I was sitting next to Yogi when Cleon caught the last out of the World Series.  I thought that Davey Johnson hit it well enough for it to go out, but Yogi with all his years of experience said that’s it, that’s the game, as soon as he hit it.

But all I can really say about Yogi was that he was a quality individual. He was the humblest guy out there. He was probably the nicest guy I’ve ever met in baseball.  He was just a sweetheart of a guy. Very funny or course and he always had that big smile on his face.

Alan Blumkin: Rod, you played a number of seasons in Hawaii. What was that like?

Rod Gaspar: We enjoyed it.  You’d rather be in the big leagues of course but if you were gonna be in the minor leagues, Hawaii is the place to play. We won a championship out there too. I have two other Championship rings besides the Mets, but they don’t look as good as that big Met ring.

Ralph Tyko: How did you break into organized baseball?

Rod Gaspar: I was always kind of small for my age. At 16 I was 5*2 and 105 pounds. In high school I was just an ordinary ballplayer but I was a good athlete and could compete with the bigger kids. When I graduated I was 5-9 and I went to Long Beach City College and I made the team and wound up leading the team in hitting. I got bigger and stronger and attended Long Beach State College and played well there for two years and made All-Conference.

The Mets drafted me in 1966 out of college but I didn’t sign so they drafted me again in 1967 and then I signed with them. I went to their Double-A club in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and played for Roy Sievers, who had led the American League in home runs at one point of his career. He was in his 40s and he was probably still a better hitter than any of us guys in their 20s. He couldn’t tell you how he did it but he could sure hit the ball.

Ralph Tyko: Were you intimidated at all when you signed and went to Double-A?

Rod Gaspar: No, I was very confident in my abilities. I had actually lost my confidence at an early age because physically some things happened to me, but I regained my confidence and got stronger. I always thought I was the best player on the team, no matter where I played.

I went to Double-A and I didn’t play for the first week and I was pissed. When I signed they told me I would be playing right away, and then after I signed I didn’t play. And then after the first week I got a paycheck for $83 and I thought, ‘Man I got paid for doing nothing?’ So finally Sievers got smart and put me in centerfield and the guy who had been playing out there was a Silver Glove Award winner in the Eastern League, and was considered a very good outfielder. But I had watched this guy for a week and I could see why he didn’t make any errors, he didn’t go for anything. He was very cautious. I didn’t play that way I was very aggressive. So I started playing and I had a decent year.  I was tenth in the league in hitting with a .260 average. I always hit better than that in college but this was pro ball, and the Eastern League was considered a pitcher’s league. The ball parks were big and old and the air was heavy.  The league only had one guy who hit .300, that was our third baseman, Bernie Smith, who never got a shot at the big leagues.

So the next year they moved their Double-A club to Memphis, Tennessee, in the Texas League, where the air was thinner and I hit .310 that year, but I thought I had a better year, when I hit .260 the year before. But sometimes it just depends on the environment.

Ralph Tyko: What was Jerry Grote like?

Rod Gaspar; He actually predicted in our 1969 spring training that we were gonna win it. He thought we had the pitching staff to win it in 1969. According to Tom Seaver, Grote was the best catcher he ever pitched to, and Seaver also pitched to Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk! So that was very high praise for Jerry.

Ralph Tyko: I once heard that if Grote played for Cincinnati, Bench would have been moved to third base.

Rod Gaspar:  I heard that too. Jerry had a rocket for an arm.  I’ll tell you a Grote story. Jerry Koosman was pitching to Grote in the 1969 season and Grote was a was a real red ass. He’d fire the ball back to the pitcher just as hard as they threw it to him. He did that once to Koosman and Koosman told him ‘you ever do that again and I’ll kick your ass.’ And he would have too. Koosman was no one to mess with.

Alan Blumkin: What was the reaction in the dugout when Ron Swoboda made that miraculous catch in Game Four of the World Series?

Rod Gaspar: That was the best play I’ve ever seen an outfielder make. I’ve see films of the Willie Mays catch and all the plays these kids now make today but that was an amazing catch. I was a good defensive outfielder and I would go in as a late inning replacement for Ron in right field and it really ticked him off to be replaced like that, so he worked his butt off to become a better outfielder.

We were at a card show years later and he brought it up to me about replacing him in the late innings. He said. You know Rodney,  that really pissed me off.” And I told him that I didn’t blame him for being upset. Ron worked his tail off and had Eddie Yost come out every day and hit hundreds of fungoes to him in the outfield just to improve my defense.

So when Ronnie made that play on the Brooks Robinson fly ball  I was so happy for him but of course happy for us too because if the ball got by Ron the whole series could have changed right there.

But the reason I thought it was the greatest outfield play I’ve ever seen was because Swoboda wasn’t supposed to make those plays. And you notice that after he caught the ball he got up and threw a rocket to home plate. He didn’t get Frank Robinson at home, but we tied it and I scored the winning run in the next inning and that was Tom Seaver’s only World Series win.

Ralph Tyko: What was the transition to civilian life like when you stopped playing?

Rod Gaspar: In 1976 I was with Hawaii of the PCL and we won the league championship. I hit .291 and played centerfield. Our manager Roy Hartsfield got the job as manager of the expansion Toronto Blue Jays the next year and if I had been picked up in the draft I might have played a few more years, but I was ready to get out of the game by then. We had two children and we were getting tired of moving around. That’s when I learned what the real world was like. I sold life Insurance. It’s a whole new ballgame.  

Ralph Tyko: We have that in common. I sold insurance for New York Life a long time. And as my grandfather used to say there is no one with endurance than the man who sells insurance.

Ed Hearn

November 2015

Ralph Tyko welcomes Ed Hearn, former catcher for the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals, and currently a motivational speaker. Topics include, the Mets 1986 championship season, success vs. significance, and going from the “penthouse to the outhouse,” and back.

Ralph Tyko: Tell us about your path to the major leagues.

Ed Hearn: I was an athlete in high school and had many opportunities in baseball and football. I had offers from West Point and several ivy league schools.

I was drafted in the fourth round by the Phillies. So I signed with them and was sent to Helena, Montana, for Rookie ball, about 2,500 miles away from my home in Florida. I was 17 years old, right out of high school and that was the beginning.

Ralph Tyko: When did you know you were being scouted?

Ed Hearn: I began to be scouted in my sophomore year. Andy Seminick, the old Philadelphia catcher, found me playing near Melbourne, Florida, and followed me the last two years in high school. In my senior year,  I probably had 18 to 20 scouts at every game  until I was failing miserably in hitting and then they kind of disappeared. But Andy stayed with me. Then my mom suggested that  I get my eyes checked and sure enough I had developed astigmatism and got glasses and eventually started to hit more like a senior who’s being scouted should hit.

So they brought in national scouts,  who were there to compare you to other kids they had their eye on. And then they would compare notes and read all the reports and come draft day make their pick.

The scouts are all over the place and occasionally someone slips through the cracks and you have a very late draft pick turns into a hall of famer.

Ralph Tyko: You had Ivy League schools after you, so not only were you considered a good athlete, but you’re also a very bright guy.

Ed Hearn: Well, we were raised to do our best in everything we did. My parents emphasized that we should maximize the gifts we’re given. And apparently I had the marbles, as my parents used to say

The priority was certainly on the academic side, but my dad was an athlete through high school and my mom had also played some sports in school, but they never went beyond that. But they understood the importance of activities outside of school work because there’s a lot to be learned from sports and they exposed us to a lot of different opportunities and allowed us to choose what we wanted to do.

Ralph Tyko: How did you find out that the Mets had called you up?

Ed Hearn: I had been in the minors for eight and a half years. I was playing Triple-A ball in Tidewater and it was after a game in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Our manager, Sam Perlazzo, called me into his hotel room after the game, and he knew that I had been in the minors for quite a long time so he was happy to give me the news that I was going to the big leagues.

Ralph Tyko: You didn’t like your first baseball card, you thought you looked a little gruff.

Ed Hearn: That’s a good description. Being a rookie and nor being seasoned in the ways of major league baseball, someone in Wrigley Field asked me if I wanted to take a photo and then when I later saw the card, I remembered the exact situation and having no idea that it was the Topps guy and that it was for my rookie card. Had I known I might have cleaned myself up a little better and come up with a better pose, But I’m just very thank full to have a rookie card.

Ralph Tyko: You were called up in 1986, is there anything about that magical year that stands out for you?

Ed Hearn: That year has been well documented and the post season was phenomenal. Its been ranked in the Top Five by most of the sports writers

Everybody remembers the ground ball through Bill Buckner’s legs when the Red Sox were one strike away from winning it all. But prior to that we faced the Houston Astros in the playoffs, and we had our hands full with them. We went 16 innings in Game four, back then it was only a five-game series. And Mike Scott, a former Met was pitching for Houston and he had developed a really nasty splitter and he cheated with it. And if we had not won Game four, we would have had to face Mr. Scott again in Game five, and quite frankly he had our number. We didn’t want any part of that next game. And on the other side the Red Sox came close to not making it because the California Angels had them on the ropes.

Ralph Tyko: Tell me about the momentum change in Game six of the World Series.

Ed Hearn: Momentum is not only a part of baseball but of life as well.

You can get on a roll in every aspect of life but momentum in sports is something that can be very powerful, especially when the 10th man, the crowd gets behind you. One of my most vivid memories of Game Six was seeing the Red Sox families sitting behind home plate on the third base side. They were all just ecstatic that they were finally going to win a World Series. And the Mets families were on the first base side and they looked like they were in a morgue, but then it just totally turned around.

So we had that momentum going into Game seven but there was a momentum buster, and it’s called rain! Having that day between Games six and seven hurt our momentum. We fell behind early in Game seven as well. But we came back much sooner. But after winning Game six like we did we wanted to play the next game right away, and not sit for a day.

Ralph Tyko: If I can just make an editorial comment, that was a very deep team. To say nothing of their skill. You had Strawberry, Gooden, Mitchell, Hernandez, Carter, Knight, Danny Heep, Hojo, it was just a terrific team. And as a lifelong Met fan I just want to thank you. It was incredibly exciting.

Do you still wear the ring.

Ed Hearn:  I wear it when I feel I’ll be around other people who will enjoy it. And because it’s not a common thing to see I’m very liberal about putting it on somebody’s hand and letting them take a picture with it. To me it’s a symbol of something that happened in my life and I was blessed to be a part of that team.

Ralph Tyko: You were traded in March, 1987 along with Rick Anderson and Mauro Gozzo to the Kansas City Royals for David Cone, and  Chris Jelic. It was a deal that former Royals owner called the worst trade in team history. How do you feel about that?

Ed Hearn: I’ve been hearing that for more than 30 years. But that’s the kind of challenge that we all face, things that happen out of our control. John Shuerholz, who was the Royals’ GM at the time told me a few years ago that all of their scouts told him that Ed Hearn was the man. And Ed Hearn was the man, but Ed Heard can’t control when he gets hurt. There are things that happen to all of us in life that we can’t control but we have to have the courage to do the things we can do.

Ralph Tyko: You’ve had some bad luck physically in your career and after. You hurt your arm and had to leave baseball. How did you deal with that?

Ed Hearn: I’ll give you a little background. I was traded to Kansas City after the World Series, to be with that young pitching staff. But then two weeks into the season I blew my shoulder out and had major reconstructive surgery and spent the next two years battling back. But my career ended very abruptly and as I was making the transition into the real world, I began feeling really awful. So I went to the doctor and next thing you know I had seen three doctors and I was diagnosed with end-stage Renal Failure. I’ve had three kidney transplants and I’ve been on medication for that ever since. They also found that I had a severe case of sleep apnea. It was a rare central nerve apnea.

I tell people it’s a good description of my life, from the penthouse to the outhouse and back. I lost my opportunity for big wealth in baseball and them I lost my health and that was tough.

But I still had those intangibles inside of me of what it takes to overcome adversity. You don’t become a big leaguer without learning to hit life’s curves and get back in the batters box.  Baseball is a game of failure. If you fail as a hitter seven out of ten times, you’re a Hall of Famer.

So we’re accustomed to learning how to deal with failure and having to get back up off your butt and get back in the game. You may strike out three times and get up in the bottom of the ninth with a chance to turn the game around.

When I was going through the health problems I told myself that I had to fight back and I had to fight to get my feet back under me, to get my foundation. And my foundation was my upbringing

I began to read and listen to tapes and I began to recover from my loss and I tell people that you don’t truly grow as a person when you’re in the penthouse of your life. It’s all about success and significance. You experience success in the penthouse but when you’re in the outhouse of life, when life throws you curves and knockdown pitches those are the moments in life that matter.

I believe that we grow the most as human beings when we’re forced to face life’s curves. It was at those times that I learned and grew the most and then became significant

Ed Kranepool – a Met Original

Ralph welcomes former New Yawk Met first baseman, Ed Kranepool, who made his major league debut in 1962 at the age of 17, and played his entire 17 year career with the Mets.

Ralph Tyko: Ed, I want to clear up one of the biggest misconceptions about you, which is that you snubbed Duke Snider and didn’t take his batting advice.

Ed Kranepool: What happened was that Casey wanted me to work on hitting to the opposite field. He told me to take extra batting practice at the Polo Grounds and his office was in dead center field and he said he was gonna watch me hit and he told me that if I pulled the ball to right field during Batting Practice he would send me to the minor leagues.

The pitcher was throwing the ball away from me and I was hitting to left field and even when he threw inside I was still trying to hit to left because being 20-years old and not wanting to go back to the minors  I was gonna do what Casey said. So then Duke Snide, who was a good friend of mine, came along and stood behind the batting cage. And started telling me that I have to pull those inside pitches to right field.

So I was a little frustrated anyway, trying to hit to left and I had to pay attention to Casey of course who was sitting in his office in centerfield watching me with binoculars.

So I told Duke to leave me alone, that he wasn’t hitting very well himself.

And of course the writers overheard this and made a big deal out of it. I talked with Duke after batting practice and explained the situation with Casey watching me from centerfield and Duke understood and it was over.

But of course the writers are gonna make a big story about a 20-year old rookie snubbing a veteran future hall of famer, .but between the two of us it was really nothing.

But Casey was indeed the kind of manager that if you didn’t pay attention to him he got rid of you in a hurry.

He did it later that season when Jimmy Piersall came to us and ran around the bases backwards to celebrate his 100th home run. Casey got rid of him the next day.

Casey ran the show, even though he was an  older manager he knew everything that was going on and you did it his way or you hit the highway.

Gil Hodges was the same way. He ran the show,  he didn’t let the front office tell him what to do.

The game has changed considerably today, the front office tells the manager who to play. They hire managers with no experience and they bring them in because they want to control their actions. The Older managers who want to run their ballclub don’t exist anymore.

A good manager wants control of his ballclub. He’s getting hired and fired. If you don’t win the manager gets fired, well if you hire me as a manager I want to have control of the guys on the field, otherwise get someone else, or manage yourself!

Ralph Tyko: Did any other of the older Mets give you and advice when you first came up?

Ed Kranepool: Gil Hodges helped me a lot. He taught me the fundamentals of playing first base.  My first roommate was Frank Thomas and he was a good player from Pittsburgh and he taught me a lot about being a professional.

Ralph Tyko:  I remember when Warren Spahn came to the Mets and you gave up your number 21 for him.

Ed Kranepool: I gave him number 21 and I didn’t get a car for it! Today they give each other cars and watches for giving up their numbers.

But I was 21 when he came to the Mets, I made the All-star team that season! I didn’t care about the number and he had played so many years and I took a lower number. They had the infielders in New York wearing lower numbers. I grew up a Yankee fan, so I took Mickey’s number 7 when I had a chance.

Ralph Tyko: What do you think of the pitchers of today?

Ed Kranepool: I think very few of them really know how to pitch. They think the middle of the plate is their area, no, that’s the hitter’s area. You throw a ball down there these kids are gonna hit it, no matter how fast you throw it. And the great pitchers didn’t come out of a game after four or five innings. Bob Gibson or Tom Seaver didn’t come out after five innings. Steve Carlton, all those guys who made the Hall of Fame. They didn’t want to come out because they didn’t want to risk having the bullpen screw up what they worked so hard for.

The pitchers today have to learn how to pitch. It’s not just about throwing 100 mph fastballs. It’s about using all four corners, up and down, changing speeds. Juan Marichal had a number of different speeds for every pitch and he won 20 games every year. And I think in his best year he had 39 complete games, both leagues combined today don’t have that many complete games.

Hobie Landrith

Ralph Tyko welcomes former catcher Hobie Landrith who played for 14 years in the Major Leagues and was the first player selected by the Mets in the 1961 expansion draft.

​Ralph Tyko: Hobie when reporters asked Casey Stengel why you were his first selection in the 1961 Expansion Draft, he said. ‘If you don’t have a catcher, you’re gonna have a lot of passed balls.

So Hobie, how did you get started as a catcher?

Hobie Landrith: I didn’t necessarily pick catching as a position, but six of my brothers were catchers so the only equipment around the house was the catching gear, so I put it on and started catching.

Then when I was 15 years old, a Detroit scout approached me on a sandlot and asked me if I would like to come to Tiger Stadium and catch batting practice. Hank Greenberg had just gotten out of the Army and they were trying to get him back into game shape. And I said absolutely, you bet!

So I went down to the Stadium and for the next ten days I caught Batting Practice and that led to them asking if I would like to catch BP for the parent team when they returned from a road trip. So I did that and the manager Steve O’Neil, who was leaning against the batting cage told me to go get a bat and get in there and hit. And that led me to being seen by a lot of people who were in the business at that time, managers, coaches, players, sports writers and when I was 16 I was approached by the Detroit Free Press and they invited 16 players from the state of Michigan to try out for the Esquire All American Boys game in Chicago.  And so I  made the team and went on to play at Michigan State and played amateur ball in Detroit.

Around that time I had decided that I wanted to turn professional and I told my dad. I had collected business cards from most of the Major League scouts and I called every one of them and they all met at our house and my father interviewed each of them. He told me that if I wanted to play pro ball my best bet would be with the Cincinnati Reds.  I wanted to play for Detroit, but having me sign with Cincinnati turned out to be a great decision on his part.

So, I worked out with the Reds in Cincinnati and then I had to meet with Warren Giles, the president of the team and later President of the National League. He asked what my plans were and I told him I had a scholarship at Michigan State and he said that was fine, but when I was ready to turn professional, make sure that I call the Reds because they were very interested in signing me. Then he leaned over and handed me a brand new $100 bill and said this will cover any  incidental expenses you may have had coming here today. And when I told him I didn’t have any expenses he asked me how I got to the stadium and I told him Iwalked. So he told me to keep the money in case I saw something that I might want to spend some money on.

Ralph Tyko: Did those early workouts with Hank Greenberg help your confidence?

Hobie Landrith: The Tigers made me feel at home. And it had an enormous effect on my future.

Ralph Tyko: You didn’t play for the Mets for too long, you wound up being sent to Baltimore as the player to be named later in the infamous  Marv Throneberry deal.

But do you have any memories of that first Mets training camp?

Hobie Landrith: The Mets drafted a lot of experienced players that first year. We had Gil Hodges, Don Zimmer, Richie Ashburn, Frank Thomas, Gus Bell and Roger Crag.

I’ll never forget the first day of Spring Training in St Petersburg, Florida, Casey came out of his office and he looked like a  Norman Rockwell character with his one pant leg up and one down, his hat  cocked off to the side, and he came into the group of 40 guys and he started talking to us. He said, ‘I know why you’re here. Some of you are on your way up in your career and some of you have plateaued and some are on the down side, but we’re gonna put together a good team and we’re gonna win.’

And he told us that before the next team comes in to play us, we should look at the box scores in the newspapers and see what players are hot. It might be the seventh or eighth hitter, it’s not necessarily the meat of the order.

And then he led those 40 guys out onto the field and into the dugout and explained what they should be doing while in the dugout, what they should be watching for. ‘You’re looking for strengths and weaknesses that you can use,’ he told us. Then he led them into the on-deck circle, the batters box, and around the bases and at each stop told us what we should be doing and thinking about while in all those positions. And it was amazing that all these experienced veterans were following Casey around from spot to spot.

And then he told the pitchers, that when they had the bases loaded and nobody out  right handed hitter, right hand pitcher, you throw that ball belt high on the inside corner. It’s gonna look so good that the batter will pop it up into the third base coaches box. Next batter, throw it low and away and he’ll try to pull it and ground it to shortstop, second base, first base, double play Game over!

So a few years later I’m playing in Washington with the Senators and Gil Hodges is our manager. We’re playing the Yankees, Claude Osteen is pitching and the bases are loaded with nobody out. Hodges is walking out to the mound and I know he’s wondering if Osteen is tired and if a tired Osteen is better than what he has in the bullpen, because we didn’t have a lot of depth back then. So he gets to the mound and I said, ‘ Gil, This is exactly the position that Casey talked about two  years ago, bases loaded, nobody out!’  And so Gil tells Claude, inside belt high. The Yankee batter, Harry Bright, pops it up into the third base coaches box and the next batter swings at a pitch, low and away and hits into a double-play, game over! We win and Claude Osteen thinks I’m a pretty good catcher!

Ralph Tyko: Is there such a thing as a catching fraternity?

Hobie Landrith: I think it takes a special individual to be a catcher. Special in a sense that when you put the equipment on, what is known as the ‘tools of ignorance,’ you are really the smartest person on the field. You guide the pitchers, you position the fielders, you control the game. Catchers root for each other. Being a catcher entails so much. Catchers endure so much pain on a daily basis but to them it’s just part of a day’s work.  And people don’t realize that catching maybe 150 ball a night, your hand swells up from the constant pounding and you can’t grip the bat properly. Even today when I meet someone who tells me that they were a catcher, no matter what level of baseball, I immediately tell them that they’re a member of

Skip Lockwood – The Closer

Ralph Tyko and Marty Rose welcome former Met Skip Lockwood and author of “Insight Pitch: My Life as a Major League Closer,”

Ralph Tyko: Marty and I were original Mets fans. We were New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodger fans but we lost our teams and so we followed you and the Mets.

Marty Rose:: We grew up 10 minutes from Shea Stadium.

Skip Lockwood: I played for the Mets for almost five years and without a doubt they were the best years of my career, for many different reasons.

I made a lot of friends in New York. I wished many times that I had never left New York. But I became the first free agent in 1980 and signed with the Red Sox because the Mets were making a transition to a new ownership group and I didn’t really have time to decide whether I was gonna stay with the Mets or go to Boston, and I came from Boston, so I was going back home.

So it was a big decision for me and my family to make and I often wished that I had stayed with the Mets for the remainder of my career.

Ralph Tyko: Did you feel any additional pressure going back to your home town?

Skip Lockwood: Well there’s always pressure going someplace where you lived. I grew up there, went to high school there, and my family was there.

As you know Boston is not the place to be if you’re not at the top of your game, and I had hurt my arm my last year with the Mets.  So when I got to the Red Sox, I wasn’t pitching very well and the people there let you know it.

Ralph Tyko: It sounds like you enjoyed your time with the Mets.

Skip Lockwood: We had good teams in New York, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, Dave Kingman, Jerry Grote, Rusty Staub, Eddie Kranepool. It was different in New York, I was in Milwaukee before I came to the Mets and we had trouble scrapping up 20,000 people and so coming to Shea and New York was a very different experience for me and my family.

Rusty Staub, “Le Grand Orange,” was such a kind gentleman. He was  so good to me and took me under his wing. That team seemed to embrace newcomers. Seaver took a shine to me too, we had lots of good conversations.

My book, “Insight Pitch: My Life as a Major League Closer,” is about the last game of the 1975 season where Seaver pitched five innings, and I pitched the last four. Tom got the Cy Young Award and I got to be the Mets’ closer for the next couple of years.

Tom Seaver was a great, honorable guy and we remained friends for the rest of his life. He always had time for people. He was like a scientist in a baseball uniform. He wanted you to work as hard as he worked and wanted you to know why you pitched well and why you didn’t. He kept a book on the hitters and forced me to do it too. I learned a lot from him.

Ralph Tyko: What does it take to be an effective closer?

Skip Lockwood: The closer has to have what they used to call a “rubber arm.” You have to be able to get up to speed at will,  three to five times a week. You need to be able to throw hard without a lot of warm up. We threw cross seam fastballs and over hand curves back then. We didn’t throw change-ups or forkballs.

The role was a little bit different back when I played but I think the role of a closer is both a physical and a mental role. I think a lot of times you’ll see the closer come in situations where the score is tied  late in the ball game or sometimes they’re brought in for the seventh  inning because the manager thinks the game is on the line. And they don’t do well in those situations because their mind set is that they are there to do one thing. They want to walk off the mound with the save with the people cheering. That’s the closer’s role. The person who closes the curtain on the game. And if that can’t happen because the game is tied or that it’s too early in the game, that little edge that you need to be a successful closer is taken away,

When I pitched, you were usually in there for two to four innings, but you knew it was your game to save.

Ralph Tyko: How did you handle your retirement?

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Skip Lockwood: You go through a lot of changes when you retire. Once they take that uniform away, you don’t get in the locker room anymore. There’s an economic change because you’ve lost that steady paycheck. Socially and psychologically you were an important person and all of that gets taken away  when you lose the uniform.

But I was determined to do something special, to still do something great. So I pursued a PhD at Columbia University while I was still with the Mets and then when I went to Boston I practiced sports psychology a little and then I got an MBA from the Sloan School at M.I.T. so I substituted being a professional ball player with being a professional student.

I tried to be the best I could be in business. I’m very goal orientated. I like finishing things. I like having a deadline and seeing it through.

I loved entering the game in the eighth inning and knowing we had to get six more outs.

Ralph Tyko: Tell us about the book.

Skip Lockwood: In my book I tried to take the reader with me onto the field. People always ask me what it’s like out there on the field and in the dugout and the locker room. What does the catcher say to you when he comes out to the mound?

So what I tried to do was give readers a first person, present tense, narrative of what that is like, what those conversations are about.

What it feels like to be on the mound, what it feels like to be in a uniform. That’s what I tried to accomplish in the book.

Ralph Tyko: Were there any stories that you wish you had put in the book?

Skip Lockwood: The book was mainly focused on the 1975 season and some stories were left out because I couldn’t relate them to that season. But I played professional baseball for 18 years, so there are a lot of stories. I’ll give you one.

Before I came to the Mets, I had never visited a National League stadium. I didn’t know the players and they probably didn’t know me.

So the first time I went into Pittsburgh with the Mets, Jerry Grote pulled me over and says that if I get into the game tomorrow and face Willie Stargell, I should knock him down. Not hit him, just knock him down.

So sure enough, next day I’m pitching to Willie Stargell. Now I don’t know if you remember but I wore big, thick Ryne Duren glasses. That’s  why I didn’t play the outfield, because those glasses would have set my eye brows on fire. And like Ryne Duren I used to milk that for all it was worth.

So Stargell came up in the eighth inning and I threw the ball behind him, it actually knocked the bat boy down. Grote came out from behind the plate, took off his mask and said, loud enough for Stargell to hear, ‘this guy’s left handed.‘ So Stargell said to Grote, ‘He can’t see me?’ I took off my glasses and wiped them on my shirt and Grote tells Stargell, ‘From that pitch, it looks like he thought you were a right handed batter. So I just wanted to let him know that you’re standing on the left side of the plate.  You know he hurt a guy the last game he pitched in Cincinnati.

That’s a story that didn’t make the book but I wish it had.

Ralph Tyko: Were you there when the Mets traded Seaver?

Skip Lockwood: Yes I was. Seaver was my ride to the ballpark back then. He had a little Porsche convertible and we used to out run the Connecticut police to Shea Stadium every day.

So this one day my ride didn’t show up. It was 4:30, then 5 o’clock and I had to get to the ballpark. Batting practice started at 5:30 and even Tom’s heavy foot wasn’t going to get us there in time. So I drove myself down and when I got to the ballpark, I didn’t know what happened but he got traded.

He left a big hole in the franchise and in the starting rotation.

Marty Rose: Is it true that you were the Number 1 pick in the country, when you signed with Charlie Finley’s Kansas City A’s?

Skip Lockwood: I signed n 1964. a year before the draft, so they were sending bird dogs to my high school games. I had seven scouts come to make me an offer.  I heard that Tom Egan, who was a very fine player in California was signing at the same time as me and he was the number 1 choice, but I was close to being number 1. I got $135,000 as a signing bonus.

Charlie Finley tried to sign as many prospects as he could that year. He signed Catfish Hunter, Joe Rudi, and Dave Duncan.

Ralph Tyko:  Do you remember your first baseball card?

Skip Lockwood: There was a rookie card with Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odom and I think Don Buschhorn along with myself.

Catfish was my roommate. He joined the team in spring training 1965.  He knocked on the door and he was limping. He was from North Carolina and he had lust shot his little toe off in a hunting accident and Charlie Finley didn’t know about it. So here’s my roommate with nine toes limping into the hotel room and I went to shake his hand and his right hand had an extra finger on it. He had like a stubby little finger so it was like shaking hands with a popcorn box. So there’s something that few people know, Catfish Hunter had eleven fingers and nine toes.

John Stearns – The Dude

November 2017

Ralph Tyko and Lenny Randle welcome Met John “Dude” Stearns, to discuss his path to the major leagues and his years with the Mets.

Ralph Tyko: The Mets traded Tug McGraw for you in 1974 and there was an uprising among the fans. Tug was one of the Mets most popular players, it was almost like when they traded Tom Seaver. But you gave them10 great years and became a fan favorite. .

John Stearns:  Well it was a multi-player deal and I don’t know why anyone would have made that deal. Because Tug was one of the best relievers in the National League, and I was just a young guy with no major league experience. But I was probably one of the top prospects in the Phillies organization.

There were also some other players involved in that deal, Del Unser   and Mac Scarce came with me to the Mets while Don Hahn and Dave Schneck went to Philly with Tug.

Ralph Tyko: You stepped up and made it an excellent deal for the Mets.

John Stearns: I had a great time in New York. I was from Denver, Colorado, and it was quite an experience. .

Ralph Tyko: You could handle New York, some players couldn’t.

Lenny Randle: Let me tell you something Ralph, John had swagger. He wasn’t going to be intimidated.

That team had some college guys who had played for some big schools like Steve Henderson, Elliot Maddox and Craig Swan. We were cocky and confident but  humble. We didn’t get intimidated, if somebody knocked us down like Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza, the whole team and all their relatives would have stormed the mound.

Ralph Tyko: John, what was your first meeting with Lenny like?

John Stearns:  Lenny joined us a couple of years after I got there and the funny thing was when I was in high school my brother played for the University of Wyoming which is in the Western Athletic Conference, the same conference as Arizona State, and Lenny was playing for ASU. So I went down to watch my brother in Phoenix during spring break when I was a senior in high school and ASU had the best team in the country so I decided right then and there that I wanted to go to ASU and play baseball and football. I had over 50 offers to play football and baseball from all over  the country but I never heard from ASU which was where I wanted to go. So I wound upgoing to the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Ralph Tyko: Did you ever regret choosing baseball over football?

John Stearns: I was selected in the seventeenth round of the NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. But then in June of 1973, my senior year in college, the baseball draft came along I was selected in the first round, second overall by the Phillies.  So I had to go with baseball. That kind of squashed my football plans right there.

The Phillies had one of their premiere scouts, Moose Johnson, living in Denver at the time so he followed me through high school and college and he was instrumental in the Phillies using their first round pick on me.

But right after me in the draft were three future Hall of Famer’s:  Robin Yount, Dave Winfield and then at about number 25 was Fred Lynn.

So you could say that the Phillies blew it by taking me as the second pick..

Ralph Tyko: Don’t sell yourself short. Maybe I’m missing something. Yount was an excellent ballplayer,  but I’d rather have a good, solid catcher. Like Casey Stengel once said, “If you don’t have a catcher, you’re gonna have a lot of passed balls.”

Were you shocked when you were traded to the Mets?

John Stearns: It was early December of 1974 and I was totally shocked. The Phillies had started me out in Class-A ball and I went all the way up to the big leagues in one year. But they had Bob Boone as their catcher and they really liked him.

But I never thought I would be traded. I was called up to the Phillies in September and when the season ended I went home for the winter and in early December,  someone from the Phillies called and said I had been traded to the Mets, thanked me and hung up. That was it.

And the next year I was in Manhattan looking around at all the tall buildings. .

I was single, so for the first two or three years I was living in Manhattan on the Upper East Side. I had a great time there. I would get on the Number Seven train and go out to Shea at two o’clock in the afternoon for a night game. Back then I could do that. Even if people recognized you, they didn’t bother you.

Ralph Tyko: You played for Joe Torre?

John Stearns:  I actually played with Joe when I first got there, in 1975, my rookie year. And then Joe became the manager in 1977.

.Ralph Tyko: John “The Hammer” Milner  was one of my favorite Mets of that time.  

John Stearns: John was a really good first baseman. He gave us power from the left side and had some good years with us. He was traded to the Pirates and played there for a while. But he was a very talented player for the Mets in the mid-1970s

Lenny Randle: Milner was traded when the Mets got Willie Montanez  Willie was a   showman, he was colorful and had a lot of hot dog in him, but he could hit. If he missed a pitch he would wave his bat at the pitcher like a sword.

John Steans; I  just spoke to Willie a couple of weeks ago. I called him because of the destruction they had from the hurricane. I asked if everything was alright and if he needed anything. I told him I could come down and help him, because I played winter ball down there and we’ve got a lot of former teammates down there like Felix Milan. But he said they were doing alright.

Ralph Tyko: John, that’s a real insight into your humanity, it’s an honor to have you on our airwaves. You’re a mench John Stearns.

John Stearns: If someone called me and said they needed me to come down, I’d be there in a heartbeat.  I asked Willie and Felix Milan if they needed me to come down and they said no, we’re okay. But I’m ready to go. Somebody has to help those people.

Lenny Randle: That country made us what we are. We went down there in the winter to hone our skills. Willie Mays went down there and they loved him.

Ralph Tyko: You were with the Mets when they traded Seaver. I thought getting Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn, and  Pat Zachry was fine, but you couldn’t replace Tom Seaver. What did that trade do to the clubhouse?

John Stearns: Well, it kind of felt like it was a whole new ballgame. We were starting over. We got four new players from Cincinnati [GG1] for Seaver and we had to move on. It was a new era.

Ralph Tyko: What was it like after you stopped playing?

John Stearns; I was very upset about it because when I stopped playing it wasn’t because I was too old, it was because of an injury.  I had a problem with my throwing arm. I had some ligament damage. I spent two years trying to rehab it and it didn’t help and the Mets finally cut me. I played half a season in Denver when they had a Triple-A team, but I couldn’t come back and eventually I had to move on.

A year later I came back as a minor league coach and then I spent about 25 years in coaching and scouting in professional baseball, so that’s the way I handled it. I was able to stay in the game as a coach and a scout.

The Iconic Ron Swoboda

March, 2016

Ralph Tyko and Wayne Unger welcome former major leaguer Ron Swoboda who talks about his path to the big leagues and years with the Mets and Yankees.

Ralph Tyko: Ron, what are you up to these days?

Ron Swoboda: I’m technically retired but I’m doing some color commentary for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. It’s been a great gig. It hasn’t felt like work yet!

I originally came to New Orleans to do television. When I was finished with baseball,  I worked for about four and a half years at WCBS in New York and then when that contract was not renewed I was looking for work and I went to Milwaukee for a couple of years and then to New Orleans for a few years. Then I went out to Phoenix for about three years and then came back to New Orleans and finished up what was about 20 years of local television sports. So I was looking for something to do and the color commentary job opened up for me.

Ralph Tyko: What was your path to the big leagues like?

Ron Swoboda: I was at the University of Maryland and I also played for a 16 to 19 age group team in Baltimore. It was the best team in that age group in the state. I grew up in Baltimore County and we played for a guy named Walter Yost who was a scout for the Orioles.  I always hoped it would lead to me being signed by the Orioles but that wasn’t gonna happen because they had spent a lot of money on a pitcher named Wally Bunker.

But I was scouted when I had a very good tournament in Johnstown Pennsylvania, and the Mets came in and said we’re gonna make you an offer. Hey said ‘We’re gonna write a number on a piece of paper and this was back in 1963 and they wrote $35,000 on a piece of paper and I signed and I was a  New York Met.’

I thought it was a good opportunity with a young team that needed talent. I never regretted it. I got to the big leagues quickly, probably a year or so before I should have

Ralph Tyko:  Did your lack of minor league experience hurt you career?

Ron Swoboda:  I had one year in the minor leagues and I think a little more time might have helped me build a little more base of skills underneath the ability I had. Maybe a little more understanding of the game, rather than learning on the job in the big leagues in front of everybody where your mistakes are magnified by newspapers and TV coverage.

Ralph Tyko: What was Casey Stengel like?

Ron Swoboda: Casey was good to me. I considered the half-season I played for him the golden years of my career. I hit 15 home runs for Casey in the first half of 1965. I never hit 15 home runs for anyone else in a full season.

He put me out there and I got to play. I wasn’t ready to play and I didn’t know anything about the professional game of baseball. I had played one year in Double-A and was just playing it by ear and there I was playing against the best players in the world and making mistakes in front of everybody.

Ralph Tyko:  Were there any coaches that helped you?

Ron Swoboda: There was an old guy named Clyde McCullough, and he was an old school gnarly old grouch but he was a funny guy too and he helped me with my throwing. And Casey was an old outfielder too and he had some tips on playing out there if you listened, and one of the things I did was listen to Casey. I know a lot of people thought it was all baloney, but if you listened to him, he really knew what he was talking about.

Ralph Tyko: What was it like playing for Gil Hodges.

Ron Swoboda:  I don’t think the Mets could have won the World Series in 1969 if anyone else but Gil Hodges was managing them. There aren’t many people with his feel for the game and decisiveness, his ability to stay on top of the game. He knew what he wanted to do and in 1969 we gave him a lot of different buttons to push. When Gil made moves he didn’t always make you happy and I didn’t always get along with him the way I should have. I’ve always had a little bit of a problem with authority. Gil was a former Marine who was on Okinawa and if you were there you saw a lot of things that you spent the rest of your life trying to forget. Tom Seaver once asked Gil what it was like on Okinawa and Seaver was a Marine Reservist. Hodges just said that if you wanted to know what it was like you needed to be there. And that’s all he said.

So Hodges was a tough guy who had seen some awful things in this world and I was just a kid who didn’t like authority and we grated on one another but it was never about him not knowing what he was doing.

Ralph Tyko: How did you get along with Art Shamsky, who you were platooned with in Right Field?

Ron Swoboda: Art and I got along great. We’re still good buddies. The righty – lefty thing with Art worked so well that year. We drove in 100 runs between the two of us. Rod Gaspar also played a little in right field for us that year.

Wayne Unger: Tell us about the Yankee years.

Ron Swoboda:  I didn’t do very much but I was grateful to have a job for two and a half years. Actually, It was kind of neat coming back to New York and playing in the old, original Yankee Stadium. That was pre-renovation and they had the monuments in center field and Ralph Houk was the manager. Houk had been a Ranger during World War II and Hodges was a Marine in the Pacific so there were some similarities. But Houk was a terrific guy and the Yankees were suffering a little faded glory by the time I got there and I didn’t really do anything to lift the program. But it was the Yankees and when you put those pinstripes on with the NY on your chest – I got s chill every time I walked out onto that field. It was a thrill that I wasn’t quite prepared for, but it was kind of neat.

The bottom line was that we weren’t a very good team and I didn’t do a lot for them. But at  least I got to play for the Yankees.

Wayne Unger: Based on  your rookie year, and that catch in the 1969 World Seress, you will always have rock star status in New York..

Ron Swoboda:  Well I don’t know about that but I love coming back to New York. I’m a big art fan and I keep my membership up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And I go to the Museum of Modern Are and I love the new Whitney Museum so when I come to the city I try to immerse myself in all the museums and galleries.  

 
Billy Sample – Renaissance Man

9/17/15

Ralph welcomes former Major League outfielder, Billy Sample, who has become a modern day Renaissance Man as a broadcaster, author, and movie director.

Ralph Tyko: Billy, when did you begin to think that you had a chance of playing in the Major Leagues?

Billy Sample: When I was playing in the Shenandoah Valley Summer League in Virginia and I thought I measured up to some of the better players in that league, many of whom made it to the majors, Jim Pankovits, Tom Brookens, Dave Tobik,  and Dean Richards, who held the stolen base record for rookies in the majors before Tim Raines  It was a good competitive league. The second year I played there I was the MVP.

I was drafted in the twenty eighth round by the Texas Rangers in 1973. Some scouts had told me they thought I would have gone sooner, so I was a little disappointed to go so late. The late Joe Branzell called to tell me and he could probably sense my disappointment at going so late in the draft. There were 24 major league teams back then, so in an effort to maybe lighten the moment and take some of the blame off he Rangers he said, “Well Bill, 23 other teams passed on you 27 times.”

So I went to James Madison University in Harrisburg, Virginia, played those two years in the Shenandoah Valley Summer League and was drafted again by Texas in 1976,  this time in the tenth round.

Ralph Tyko: You had a fine, consistent Major League career, but in 1983 your numbers rose appreciably.  Was it just having the right opportunities, just putting it all together? You had your most at- bats that year as well.  

Billy Sample: Yeah, it just all came together for me that year. We had a new manager in Doug Rader, and he had more of a National League philosophy,  where he played his entire career, and so we were a little more aggressive and that helped,

I had Wayne Tolleson as a running mate and that helped. Wayne stole 33 baes that year, so we could compare notes. I think that season I batted in all nine spots of the American League batting order. But mostly at the top of the order. Tolleson and I were reasonably close in the order so we could maximize the speed game a little more. And I stole 44 bases out of 54 attempts. It was a good year to have it all come to fruition. Two years earlier, I got off to a tremendous start and was among the league leaders in doubles, but in Arlington Stadium as it also was in Baltimore, the light stanchions were a little lower and it seemed like every line drive went right through the lights and one night, I think it was U.L. Washington, hit a line drive off Rick Honeycutt and I had to wait for the line drive to come out of the lights, which most of the time it does, but once in a while it doesn’t and I lost it in the lights and couldn’t find it. I made the catch but broke my wrist. I stayed in the game, not realizing it was broken until the next half inning. I was going up to bat and all of a sudden I couldn’t swing! But luckily for me I got hit with a pitch and didn’t have to swing at all.

Ralph Tyko: And only a man with a broken wrist who got hit with a major league pitch would consider himself lucky!

You played in the National League for one season with Atlanta in 1986, Are the differences in the two leagues over-rated? Is there really a distinct difference between leagues?

Billy Sample: I thought back then there was. One difference was because of the DH in the American League, one run doesn’t mean as much as it does in the National League. Because you have one extra legitimate hitter in the lineup who can erase a deficit earlier and easier. In the National League, you need to challenge more because you can’t afford to put that run on base because you’re gonna have to pinch hit for the pitcher so they challenged you more. They throw  fastballs more on a three and one count, they challenged you. In the American League they think nothing of throwing you a three and two breaking ball.  

When Doug Flynn was with Texas, after spending most of his career in the National League, he was shocked when he was thrown a three and two breaking ball, and I told him ‘Welcome to the American League.”

For some National Leaguers coming over to the American League for the first time was a real adjustment. I remember Ted Simmons, who was a .297 hitter with St. Louis, dropped to .215 with Milwaukee his first year. And because they use their fastballs more in the National League they tend to be a little harder, but back then the American League was a breaking ball league.

Ralph Tyko: You’ve been a ballplayer, broadcaster, author and in 2013 you wrote and directed a movie! You’ve become a 21st Century Renaissance Man!

Billy Sample: Yes, “Reunion 108” is a movie about two generations of  professional ball players returning to one of their minor-league stops for a  ‘reunion’ game.  Most of the movie is filmed in the clubhouse. We filmed it in the Tampa Bay Ray’s Single-A club’s stadium in Fishkill, NY.  There’s a lot of behind the scenes, “fly on the wall” kind of stuff.

I got a compliment from the person who rated the movie and gave it an “R”. He was a baseball guy and knew a lot about the game from the 1950s and he said that it was along the lines of Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” as far as being a seminal baseball movie. And for him to say that really meant a lot to me.

Ralph Tyko: As a future writer and broadcaster, what was your relationship like with the media?

Billy Sample: I wrote for Baseball Weekly, back in it’s inception in the early 1990s and I was a broadcaster for a number of teams, I thought that I could bring a certain insight that other people didn’t have.

But there was a situation that I experienced in Texas in the early 1980s. Rusty Staub had come over from Detroit and he and I were essentially sharing left field. And there was a writer who wasn’t a regular beat writer and he asked me a number of questions and he was looking for some kind of animosity between Rusty and I and kept asking the same question in different ways to get the answer he wanted for his column. But there was absolutely nothing there, in fact in almost every situation where I’ve been platooned, some of the people I’ve had the most respect for are the people who were in the platoon with me. And so I answered the questions and Rusty answered the questions. I’m guessing that the guy’s editor sent him out to stir up some stuff, and I’ve been around writers long enough to know when they’re looking for an angle. But there was nothing there. He couldn’t get quotes to back it up, so he wound up writing out and out lies.

Rusty calling the editor to complain and we didn’t see that writer around too much after that. But that’s the kind of thing that gets players upset with the media. I didn’t think the media was any tougher in New York than Texas, but there were more of them. So what you may think of as a throw away line somebody will pick it up and use it.

Ralph Tyko: How was your time with the Yankees?

Billy Sample: I was traded in spring training 1985 from the Rangers to the Yankees. In those days the Rangers trained in Pompano Beach, Florida,  while the Yankees were in Fort Lauderdale, which were side-by-side cities, so I didn’t have to go very far.

So I went to Fort Lauderdale and George Steinbrenner came into the locker room and welcomed me to the club, which I thought was really nice.

I was there for Yogi Berra’s last 16 games as Yankee manager. He stayed away for a long time before a truce was fostered by broadcaster Susyn Waldman at Yogi’s Museum in Montclair, NJ.

Then Billy Martin came in, I think it was his third tenure with the Yankees. At the time I really didn’t know much about his situation with Steinbrenner and the Yankees, but since then I’ve been mentioned in three books with anecdotes about Billy. I’m in Goose Gossage’s book, Reggie Jackson’s book, and Roger Kahn’s book, because evidentially Billy went up to Gossage in spring training and told him to hit me in the head – he named me by name. Goose told me years later, when I was playing for Martin. He asked me if I was having any trouble with Billy and I said that he didn’t seem to be thrilled with me. And Goose said, “Well get in line.”

But Goose wasn’t going to fight someone else’s battle like that, especially throwing at my head and I’m not even sure why Martin said that. But I never bothered to find out.

Ralph Tyko: Figuring out Billy was a full time job for a lot of people for a long time.

Billy Sample: I just told him that I’d be ready whenever he needed me to play, because I knew I wouldn’t be playing as much as I did in Texas, since they already had Dave Winfield, Ricky Henderson and Ken Griffey Sr. in the outfield. So I wound up appearing in 59 games and batting .288 and was traded to Atlanta the next season.

George “The “Stork!” Theodore

September 2017

In this episode Ralph welcomes fan favorite George “The Stork” Theodore who had a short but memorable career with the Mets in the mid-70s.

Ralph Tyko: Did you have a baseball mentor when you were a youngster?

George Theodore: My mentor was a man named Orson Bailey and he was my coach from Little League through American Legion ball. He practiced a lot and he really developed me and then I went to the University of Utah.

Then I was signed by Roy Partee, who was a regional scout out of California. He had been a catcher for the Red Sox at one point  He scouted me but I never even knew I was being scouted

Ralph Tyko: What was your first experience in the Mets organization?

George Theodore: I started in the Rookie League in Marion, Virginia.  I was there for about a week and me and Tom Kilgore, who was also signed out of the University of Utah, we knew all the cut offs and different plays, so we were sent to Pompano Beach and that’s where I played my first year, with Joe Frazier as my manager.

Then I went to Visalia, California, the next season and Joe was my manager again. I hit .300, so I was moved up to Double-A, but the manager there didn’t think I was his kind of player and wasn’t playing me and they were about to release me and Joe Frazier stepped in and had me sent back to him. So I had my second run in the California League with Joe and was named the Player of the Year that season.  

Ralph Tyko: What was Joe Frazier like. He had a short run as Mets manager in 1976 and early 1977.

George Theodore: He was pretty serious minded. He would speak his mind if you weren’t doing what you were supposed to. He would pull you out in the middle of an inning if he thought you weren’t hustling. I got along great with him. He gave me lots of opportunities that a guy drafted as late as I was doesn’t usually get. But I was performing, and he gave me plenty of chances and I enjoyed that.

When I went to Triple-A, Hank Bauer was the manager.  Hank put me at first base and that’s where I was most comfortable. I had a pretty good year there and that winter I played in the Dominican Republic. I played the entire season there and we got into the playoffs, but lost in the finals. Our pitcher was J.R. Richards and he was the most  dominating pitcher in the league.  With the poor lighting and other conditions down there at that time, when he threw that fastball you could barely see it and his slider was just about as fast and I don’t know how anyone could hit him.

Ralph Tyko: How did you find out you were called up to the Mets?

George Theodore: I was told that I made the team but in two weeks when they needed an extra pitcher, I was probably the one who was going down.

I can remember being in Cincinnati, standing in the outfield during batting practice and having Pete Rose running on the track behind me and saying. ‘Nice going kid!” That was a big deal at that time. I don’t know how he even knew who I was or that I had made the team.

Ralph Tyko: What was your first big league game like?

George Theodore: I pinch hit and I was facing Steve Carlton and it was about 40 degrees in Philadelphia that night. I ran the count to three-and-two and to tell you the truth, I thought I could hit any lefthander. The next pitch was six inches outside and I started running down to first base when I heard the umpire say, ‘Strike Three you’re out!’ So that was my introduction to big league baseball.  When you’re a rookie you better swing at anything close.

Ralph Tyko: What was Yogi Berra like as a manager?

George Theodore: He was good for me. He’d play you and push you, but he didn’t tell you that you had to do it this way or that way, although I’m sure he had all kinds of knowledge that I wish I had more of. He was a very genuine, sincere type of person and easy going. He didn’t get flustered, and he had some good people around him.

Ralph Tyko; Tell me about Jerry Grote.

George Theodore: Jerry was very serious, but a wonderful man. A great, great catcher. If the pitcher didn’t throw the ball where he wanted it, he would fire that ball back as hard as he could

Ralph Tyko: What was your first year out of baseball like?

George Theodore: I think it’s tough on any player. Your self-image is that of an athlete,  so to adjusting to not being that anymore and being a regular person was a little tough. But I kept busy and went to graduate school.

Ralph Tyko: How did the ‘Ya Gotta Believe!’ rallying cry get started?

George Theodore: We had a meeting and M. Donald Grant, the owner,  came down to talk to us. I think he had a few drinks in him but he was trying to inspire us, and he said, ‘Boys, Ya Gotta Believe!’

And Tug McGraw picked it up and started yelling ‘Ya Gotta Believe!’ and we started winning after that and it became our rallying cry.

Ralph Tyko: What was it like playing with Willie Mays?

George Theodore: It was an honor. And being the great player that he was, he was not aloof or condescending. He was a regular guy and to watch him take batting practice and swing that bat, you would have thought he was 22-years old again.

I don’t know what happened but he was great at the beginning of the year and they played him once or twice a week.  But then, from what I heard, the front office wanted him to retire and they started playing him every day and he started to break down and finally he stopped coming to the ballpark until September. And then they had a special day for him. But even after not playing he still had some important hits in the World Series for us.

Ralph Tyko: What about Cleon Jones, a very talented enigma.

George Theodore: Cleon had the locker next to me with Felix Milan on the other side. And as far as I’m concerned, Cleon was as good a hitter and anybody. But his left knee bothered him all the time. He couldn’t push off of it so he was basically hitting on one leg. But he was a fantastic hitter and a great person. I really enjoyed being around him those years.

Meet the Mets!

In 1961, before they had even played a single game, the New York Mets ran a contest to select an official team song. A total of nineteen songs were submitted but “Meet the Mets” was selected by team President George Weiss, Julie Adler, Director of Promotions and representatives of the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency.

The catchy tune was written by Ruth Roberts and Bill Katz, who had previously written “I Love Mickey,” a tribute to Mickey Mantle which was recorded by Teresa Brewer and “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Ballgame,” which was played regularly at Los Angeles Dodger home games.

“Meet the Mets” was recorded in March 1963 and the team sold 45 rpm records of the song for $1 at the Polo Grounds and via mail order. It was played as an introduction to every Mets television and radio broadcast and by organist Jane Jarvis when the Mets took the field at Shea Stadium.

The popularity of “Meet the Mets” spurred the Yankees to create their own theme song in 1967. “Here Come the Yankees,” was composed by Bob Bundin and Lou Stallman and played at the beginning and end of every Yankee television and radio broadcast, but never attained the iconic status of “Meet the Mets.”

Everybody sing!

“Meet the Mets”, written by Ruth Roberts and Bill Katz.

Meet the Mets, meet the Mets,
Step right up and greet the Mets.
Bring your kiddies, bring your wife,*
Guaranteed to have the time of your life.
Because the Mets are really sockin’ the ball,
Knockin’ those home runs over the wall.
East side, West side, everybody’s coming down,
To meet the M-E-T-S Mets, of New York town.

Oh, the butcher and the baker and the people on the streets,
Where did they go? To MEET THE METS!
Oh, they’re hollerin’ and cheerin’ and they’re jumpin’ in their seats,
Where did they go? To MEET THE METS!
All the fans are true to the orange and blue,
So hurry up and come on down –
’cause we’ve got ourselves a ball club,
The Mets of New York town!

Give ’em a yell! Give ’em a hand!
And let ’em know you’re rootin’ in the stands!
Come on and…

Meet the Mets, meet the Mets,
Step right up and greet the Mets.
Bring your kiddies, bring your wife,
Guaranteed to have the time of your life.
Because the Mets are really sockin’ the ball,
Knockin’ those home runs over the wall.
East side, West side, everybody’s coming down,
To meet the M-E-T-S Mets,
Of New York town,
Of New York town!

*According to the New York Times, the song’s original lyrics — “Bring your kiddies, bring your wife / Guaranteed to have the time of your life” — were viewed as “arguably sexist.”


 [GG1]

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