The New York Mets’ first spring training drill took place on February 19, 1962, at Huggins-Stengel Field in St. Petersburg, FL. Twenty-two pitchers and catchers worked out under the watchful eyes of manager Casey Stengel and coach Rogers Hornsby. Knowing as we do that this team was destined to lose 120 games in its inaugural season, and that awful pitching would be the number one culprit, one has to ask: How bad a hurler did you have to be to NOT make this club? We’re here to name names.
Five pitchers who were purchased conditionally were later returned to the teams from whence they came. Bob Botz, one of the first players cut, and Aubrey Gatewood, dropped four days before the season opener, might be considered “the ones that got away.” Botz’s 3.43 ERA with the Angels in ’62 was a full run lower than anyone in the Mets’ bullpen that season and Gatewood, his successor in California, would do even better from ’63 to ’65. Howie Nunn’s major league career would end after six final games with the Reds, while Johnny Antonelli and Billy Loes, once standouts with the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, respectively, both retired before the season opened.
Among a handful of minor league and college invitees, four toiled briefly in the Amazins’ farm system: Ray Apple (who should have made the team based on his name alone), Marshall Hamilt, Mark Hoy, and Evans Killeen. Ed Donnelly, Bruce Fitzgerald, and Bill Robertson are even lesser footnotes in the annals of the Mets.
Clem Labine, another former Brooklyn star, broke north with the club, but his major league career ended after three April relief appearances — just long enough to make his contribution to the 1962 staff’s 5.04 ERA.
Happy 42nd birthday to right-hander Miguel Batista, who closed out the Mets’ 2011 season with the best game (statistically, at least) of his career. His masterful two-hit shutout of the Reds was overshadowed, however, by Jose Reyes’s own statistical feat: bunting for a hit in the first inning and removing himself from the game to ultimately become the first batting champion in Mets history.
In late July of 1996, Alvaro Espinoza, who turns 51 today, came to the Mets from Cleveland along with Carlos Baerga. We suspect clubhouse manager Charlie Samuels got the two infielders mixed up when he issued them their uniforms. That would explain how “Espinoza” posted an OPS of .801 over the last nine weeks of the season, more than 120 points above his previous career high, while “Baerga,” after four straight .800+ seasons, managed only a .675 OPS in his two-plus years as a Met.
Hey, it wasn’t Tim Burke’s idea to go from the Expos to the Mets in exchange for Ron Darling in July of 1991. In fact, the right-handed reliever, 54 today, didn’t want to uproot his wife and kids from their Montreal home. He was a genuinely dedicated family man who, less than two years later, quit the Reds during spring training and gave up a couple of million dollars’ salary because he felt his kids needed him more than baseball did — especially since the children he and his wife Christine adopted, from Vietnam, Korea, and Guatemala, were all either physically or mentally challenged.
Amazin’-ly Tenuous Connection
Animation pioneer Paul Terry was born on this date in 1887. After three decades of producing theatrical cartoons starring the likes of Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle, his Terrytoons outfit ventured into TV. Terrytoons’ first creation for the small screen was a cartoon for “Captain Kangaroo” called “Tom Terrific” — the adventures of a young man who thwarted villains with his pluck and ability to transform himself into any animal or object. When Tom Seaver burst upon the scene, it didn’t take long for the media to dub him “Tom Terrific” for his heroics on the mound and ability to turn an ordinary baseball into a guided missile that thwarted enemy batters.