Major League Baseball held its inaugural free agent draft of high school and college talent on this date in 1965. By dint of a National League worst 53-109 record compiled the year before, the Mets were granted the second overall pick and they used it to select Les Rohr, a hard-throwing high schooler out of Billings, Montana.
Born the son of a United States Air Force officer in Lowestoft, England, Rohr and his family relocated to the Treasure State when he was just six months old. There, in the shadow of the Rimrocks, Rohr developed a powerful left arm and a fastball that Mets' assistant general manager Bing Devine called overpowering. Scout Red Murff went further, saying that the six-foot-six, 200-plus pound, country strong hurler "strikes everyone out and his own catcher is in danger of being injured." Murff even predicted that Rohr would be a 20-game winner and, in a comparison charming when contrasted with the hyperbole lavished upon draftees these days, said he was "as impressive as [future Met] Ray Sadecki."
Within two years of being drafted, it appeared that Rohr was on the verge of fulfilling his promise. Called up in September 1967, the prospect fanned six Dodgers in six innings to earn the 6-3 victory in his major league debut. His final start of the year was more impressive, as got the better of Don Drysdale by tossing eight shutout frames with seven Ks and just two walks.
Rohr broke camp with the Mets in 1968, but his first appearance of the season was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Called upon to relieve Danny Frisella in the 22nd inning of a scoreless game at the Astrodome on April 15, the lefty walked four, took the loss, and strained a tendon in his elbow at some point during the appearance. The injury relegated Rohr the disabled list and rehab for the remainder of the year. Ultimately, it ended his career as well.
While Red Murff missed the mark with his predictions for Rohr, one pitcher from the Mets' first draft developed into the type of pitcher he envisioned. In the tenth round, the team took another teenager with a big arm: Nolan Ryan. According to this article, Ryan mailed Rohr some photos from their Mets days and note that read, with typical Texas terseness, "I enjoyed playing with you."
- John Gibbons, who the Mets selected with a late first round pick in the same draft that netted them Darryl Strawberry, turns 51 today. Gibbons's playing career lasted just 18 games, all with the Mets, though he's since found steady work as a big league skipper. At present, he's racked up a 331-339 record in six years as a manager, all with the Toronto Blue Jays.
- Journeyman Joe Grzenda is 76. Not to be confused with Joe Shlabotnik, Grzenda pitched eight years in the majors and spent one of as property of the New York Mets. In 1967, the left-hander made 11 appearances, posting a respectable 2.16 ERA.
- Also celebrating a birthday is another disemboweled pitcher: Dave Mlicki. He's 45. The owner of a good, if occasionally hard to harness curveball, Mlicki had the most credible season of his career as a Met. In 1997, he racked up 2.3 bWAR in 32 starts, the most memorable of which was a complete game, 6-0 blanking of the Yankees in the very first interleague meeting of the crosstown rivals.
Les Rohr and Nolan Ryan weren't the only Miracle Mets that New York selected in the first MLB draft. The class of '65 also included infielder Ken Boswell (fourth round) and pitcher Jim McAndrew (11th round).
Three key players in the 1986 title season also joined the organization on this date. In 1976, the Mets used their second pick to take Pepperdine's Mike Scott, who went on bedevil his drafting team (and the rest of the National League) as the Cy Young-award winning ace of the Western Division champion Houston Astros. Nine rounds later, the Mets took Neil Allen, the reliever that general manager Frank Cashen traded to the Cardinals for Keith Hernandez. Another Cashen transaction that paid dividends on this date was picking Lenny Dykstra in the 12th round of the 1981 draft, which might be a bigger steal than all the millions Nails would go on to defraud his investors out of.
Game of Note
The longest losing streak in Mets history finally came to a halt 51 years ago today. Original Met Jay Hook helped pulled the team out of a 17-game spiral by tossing eight innings of three-run ball against the Cubs in the first half of a doubleheader on June 8, 1962. Charlie Neal provided the winning margin with a ninth inning sac fly, while reliever Craig Anderson threw an eventful, but scoreless bottom of the frame to secure the 4-3 win.
Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
Today marks what would have been the 146th birthday of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Though the landscape west of the Mississippi is dotted with landmark Wright buildings and Usonian homes, there's a relative paucity in New York City. The only extant Wright structures in the five boroughs are Manhattan's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Crimson Beech, a private home in Staten Island. Queens residents, however, can stake claim to Citi Field, the house that David Wright (and taxpayers) built.