Since the Rule 4 Draft was instituted in 1965, 40 of the 57 players selected with the 14th overall pick have gone on to make a major league debut. Of those players, twenty-five have produced positive value for their team. Many of those players went on to have outstanding careers, most notably Jason Heyward, Derrek Lee, Tino Martinez, Cliff Floyd, Jason Varitek, Tom Brunansky, and Scott McGregor, among others.
Thanks to their 83-79 record in 1970, the Mets had the fourteenth overall selection in the 1971 MLB Draft. With their pick, they selected Rich Puig, a second baseman from Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Florida. He signed for $40,000 and was assigned to the Marion Mets, the organization’s Appalachian League affiliate at the time, where he hit .217/.276/.311 in 46 games with 3 homers, 6 stolen bases, and 13:35 walk:strikeout ratio.
He was promoted to the Pompano Beach Mets, their Florida State League affiliate, in 1972 and the second baseman hit .252/.352/.348 in 123 games with 4 homers, 11 stolen bases, and 71 walks to 83 strikeouts. Puig was promoted in 1973 to the Visalia Mets, their High-A affiliate, and hit .292/.407/.479 in 92 games before receiving a promotion to the Memphis Blues, the team’s Double-A affiliate, for the remainder of the year. The 20-year-old hit .208/.344/.327 with the Blues and .272/.392/.442 on the season as a whole, with 15 home runs, 10 stolen bases, and 79 walks to 106 strikeouts.
In 1974, the Memphis Blues owner Bernard Kraus sold the Double-A Texas League team for $25,000 to businessman Cal Rockefeller, who moved the team to Victoria, Texas. The Mets kept their affiliation with the new team, and Puig began the season with the Toros. He appeared in 31 games, hitting .198/.302/.317, before receiving a promotion to the Tidewater Tides, the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate. He hit .258/.364/.350 in 63 games there and then received a cup of coffee in the majors in September. Making his debut on September 13, 1974, Puig went 0-10 with a walk and 2 strikeouts in the 4 games he appeared in. His appearance against the Phillies on September 25 would end up being the final major league game he would ever play in.
Puig began the 1975 season with Tidewater but was released early on in the season after hitting just .182/.294/.182 in 13 games. He was signed by the Chicago White Sox shortly after being released and was assigned to the Knoxville Sox, their Double-A affiliate, for the remainder of the season, hitting .216/.316/.294 in 83 games. He spent the entire 1976 season in Knoxville and hit .196/.265/.290 in 118 games. At the conclusion of the season, he retired from baseball at the tender age of 23. For his entire professional career, he hit.232/.329/.339 in 603 games with 35 homers, 46 stolen bases in 68 attempts, and 289 walks to 394 strikeouts.
The son of welterweight boxer Libero Mazzilli, Lee was born on March 25, 1955, in Brooklyn, the same year the scions of the boro would finally get over the hump and win the World Series. Growing up in Sheepshead Bay, Mazzilli played baseball, stickball, punch ball, and all of the local neighborhood games, but he showed a real passion and ability for ice skating. Practicing at rinks in Prospect Park, Central Park, and Flushing Meadows Park, he would compete in local and national speedskating competitions. In 1971, when an Olympic qualifier skating even conflicted with a baseball playoff game, he was forced to make a choice between the two and elected to put baseball first.
In 1973, he graduated from Lincoln High School in Coney Island, where my uncle, who was in Mazzilli’s graduating class, described him as, “a dick”. Thanks to their 83-73 record in 1972, the Mets had the fourteenth overall selection in the 1973 MLB Draft and with that pick, they selected Mazzilli and signed him for $50,000. A switch hitter who was also a switch fielder, he stood out on the diamond thanks to his equal ability to hit and play defense. Over the three years he played baseball for Lincoln, he hit .386 and was known for an aggressive style on the basepaths and confident swagger in center field.
Mazzilli spent his first three years as a professional in the Mets’ minor league system. In 1974, he spent the season with the Anderson Mets, their Western Carolinas League affiliate, where he hit .269/.376/.403 in 132 games with 11 homers, 46 stolen bases, and a 76:89 walk:strikeout ratio. In 1975, he spent the season with the Visalia Mets, their California League affiliate, and hit .281/.409/.414 in 125 games with 13 home runs, 49 stolen bases, and 88:72 walk:strikeout ratio. In 1976, he spent the season with the Jackson Mets, their Texas League affiliate, and hit .292/.439/.456 in 125 games with 13 home runs, 28 stolen bases, and a 111:69 walk:strikeout ratio.
At the end of the 1976, Mazzilli was promoted to the Mets. While he was never initially intended to be an everyday presence in the lineup, their lack of activity in in the inaugural free agent market combined with a lack of suitable candidates resulted in the 22-year-old coming into the 1977 season as the Mets’ starting center fielder. Mazzilli did not struggle in his first season as an everyday player in the major leagues, he certainly experienced growing pains, hitting .250/.340/.339 with 6 home runs, 22 stolen bases, and 72 walks to 72 strikeouts. He would improve over the next few years and would become National League’s top young players and a fan favorite on the Mets.
In 1979, Mazzilli signed a five-year, $2.1 million contract with the Mets, making him the highest paid player in team history. With the loss of Tom Seaver, he became the face of the team, but minor leaguers in the system and other free agent moves made to improve the club would eventually seal Mazzilli’s fate. The debut of Mookie Wilson in 1980 along with the acquisitions of Dave Kingman and George Foster resulted in less playing time for Mazzilli. After an injury-plagued 1981 season, he was traded to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Ron Darling and Walt Terrell on April 1, 1982.
Mazzilli would spend the next few seasons with the Rangers, Yankees, and Pittsburgh Pirates, but returned home in 1986. Prior to the start of the season, Frank Cashen was interested in acquiring the veteran outfielder and offered the Pirates third baseman Ray Knight, but Pittsburgh did not accept the trade. Knight would end up hitting .298/.351/.424 in 137 games with the Mets, while Mazzilli hit .226/.392/.301 in 61 games for the Bucs and was released in July. Cashen signed the now-free agent in August, and after a tune-up in the minors, he returned to the team he made his major league debut with as an important piece of their championship puzzle, hitting .276/.417/.431 in 39 games.
Mazzilli stayed with the Mets until 1989, when the Toronto Blue Jays claimed him on waivers in August. He appeared in 29 games for them and hit .227/.395/.455 before retiring from baseball at the end of the season. All in all, Maz hit .259/.359/.385 over the course of a 14-year-career.
After his career on the field ended, he dabbled with television, finance, and hospitality before returning to baseball in 1997, managing in the Yankees minor league system at the request of his friend, former teammate and manager, Joe Torre. He would manage the Tampa Yankees in 1997 and 1998, and then the Norwich Navigators in 1999 before joining Torre on the Yankees in 2000 as their first base coach, ironically helping the Bronx Bombers win the World Series over the Mets.
In 2004, he was hired by the Baltimore Orioles to replace Mike Hargrove. The Orioles went 78-84 that year, finishing in third place, their best finish since 1997. The O’s jumped out to a 42-28 start in 2005, their best start in years, but came crashing back down to earth in the second half. Mazzilli was fired in early August as a result. He returned to the Yankees in 2006, serving as Joe Torre’s bench coach, but has not suited up as a coach or manager since. In 2007, he was hired by SNY as a studio analyst and spent the next few years there. In the years since, he has intermittently worked with the Yankees front office. His son, of course, LJ Mazzilli, was drafted by the Mets in the 4th round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of the University of Connecticut, where he hit a cumulative .265/.336/.381 over six seasons before being released in at the end of the 2018 season. He signed on with the Long Island Duck in 2019 and is still playing with them today.