Birthday wishes go out to Lee Mazzilli, who turns 58 today. The son of welterweight Libero Mazzilli, Lee was a natural born athlete. However, he was also born with a face that inspired writers to include the (not incorrect) phrase "matinee idol looks" in nearly every profile, so following in his father's footsteps wasn't an option. Instead, Maz turned to baseball and, weirdly, speed skating, a sport in which he won eight national championships as a student-athlete for Coney Island's Abraham Lincoln High School.
Selected by the Mets with the 14th overall pick in 1973 draft, Mazzilli shot through the team's minor league ladder, due in no small part to his exceptional quickness. As a 20-year old prospect in the California League, he once swiped seven bases in a game. Promoted to Double-A the following year, Maz added patience to his toolkit, drawing 111 walks against just 69 strikeouts. By 1977, he was in the majors to stay. Installed as the starting center fielder, Maz took his lumps during the season's first half. At the All-Star break, his OPS stood at just .582. The days off must have rejuvenated the 22-year old, because from mid-July on, he began to look good both on and off the field. Post-ASG, his OBP jumped to .372 (fueled by an improved BABIP and a tasty 39:35 BB:K ratio) and he connected for five homers after hitting just one between April and July.
Mazzilli continued to improve in 1978, and by '79 he was an All-Star in his own right. As the best player on an otherwise dismal team, he was the no-brainer pick to represent New York at the Midsummer Classic in Seattle. Still, Maz wasn't a charity selection and he proved as much with his performance. Tabbed to pinch hit fo Gary Matthews in the top of the eighth, Lee rocketed a Jim Kern offering over the Kingdome's left field fence for a game-tying, opposite field home run (the first pinch hit home in All-Star history, for what it's worth). One inning later, Maz coaxed a bases-loaded walk out of the Yankees' Ron Guidry to force in what would prove to be the game's winning run. For his work bringing the National League back from the brink of defeat, Mazzilli was named MVP, though he had to share honors with Dave Parker of the Pirates. He remains the only Met to take home an All-Star Game MVP trophy.
That would be the high water mark of Maz's first go-round with the Mets. He'd finish 1979 with a career-best 4.7 rWAR and an excellent .395 OBP boosted by 93 walks. Back injuries began to slow the fleet-footed center fielder in 1980 and an elbow injury necessitated a move to first base, where his skill set wasn't nearly as valuable. The 1980 season also happened to be the first one for the Wilpon-Doubleday ownership group and general manager Frank Cashen. The new leadership instituted a full rebuild and Maz was one of the first assets sold off. After an 1981 season that saw Lee slip to sub-replacement levels of production, Cashen traded him to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Walt Terrell and a raw 20-year old from Yale University named Ron Darling.
"Sentiment is not supposed to play a part in this game," Cashen told the New York Times at the time of the trade. He was right. Still, a little softness must have crept into Cashen's heart by August 3, 1986. The Mets record that day stood at a MLB-best 69-32, thanks to roster stocked with talent acquired in savvy, unsentimental acquisitions. With an eye toward strengthening the bench for a deep postseason run, Cashen brought Lee Mazzill, released ten days earlier by the Pirates, back to New York. Maz responded with perhaps his best stretch of hitting since his All-Star campaign. Employed by manager Davey Johnson as his prime weapon off the bench, Lee put together a .276/.417/.431 line in 72 regular season plate appearances, then added a pair of pinch hits in the World Series.
Maz spent three more years with the Mets, serving as a Sunday starter at first and the outfield corners. He finished his career with a half-season in Toronto, after which he opted to use his good looks in actual matinees, starring as Tony in an Off-Broadway production of Tony n' Tina's Wedding.
Oh, it's also Tom Glavine's birthday. Old number 47 turns 47. For a more even-handed assessment of his Mets career that I'm willing to give, check out Pack Bringley's excellent piece on Glavine from the Top 50 Mets of All-Time series.
Four years before the Mets imported Tom Glavine, the team came to terms with another former rival who bedeviled batters with pinpoint control and stoic mound demeanor. On this date in 1999, GM Steve Phillips signed Orel Hershiser to round out the back of the rotation. Eleven years prior, Hershiser earned MVP honors by tossing 24-plus innings of 1.09 ERA ball against the Mets in the Dodgers' upset NLCS triumph. The tenacious right-hander partially atoned for that wicked performance when he pulled an anti-Glavine in Game 162 of the 1999 season and limited the Pittsburgh Pirates to two hits and a scanty single run in a gutsy five-and-third inning start. The Mets, of course, would go on to win the affair 2-1 in bottom of the ninth. They'd win Game 163, too, thus earning a trip to the playoffs for the first time since Hershiser and the Dodgers bounced them more than a decade before.
Game of Note
As a player, Dave Kingman could do two things well: alienate reporters and hit a baseball a long way. He displayed the latter tool on this date in 1975. The newly acquired Kingman, purchased from the San Francisco Giants one month earlier, connected for a three-run homer in the first inning of Tuesday afternoon exhibition against the Pirates. The blast, which gave the Mets the only runs they'd need in an 8-0 victory, was Kong's eighth in just 15 games. Were he able to keep going deep at that rate, it would have resulted in 80 long balls over the course of a 162-game season. Obviously, Kingman didn't maintain that level of production once games started to matter, but he did wind up socking homers at a rate heretofore unseen in Mets history. His 36 round trippers in 1975 established a new team record for most homers in a single season.
Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
Sir Walter Raleigh was granted a patent to establish a colony in the New World, specifically on the land that would later become the state of Virginia, on this date in 1583. The Tidewater region has proved to be fertile grounds for the development of great Americans. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison all grew up within the boundaries of Raleigh's colony, though most impressive of all is that Captain America himself, David Wright, called the Commonwealth home for the formative years of his life. Assuming David's career continues apace, he'll not only wind up atop the Mets leaderboard in almost all offensive categories, but he'll also lead all MLB players born in Virginia in hits, doubles, and home runs (though Justin Upton could overtake him in homers).