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Lee Mazzilli

July 14, 2008
 Untitled 

Lee Mazzilli was good, not great, at just about everything. He could draw walks, hit for a decent average, smack 15 or so home runs and steal 15 or so bases a year, and cover a lot of ground in the outfield. You could almost say that he was flawless, a characterization that he seemed inclined to emphasize by custom-tailoring his uniforms and maintaining his archetypical feathered haircut with the level of care usually only given to invaluable cultural relics, which in a way is what it was. But in truth he did have one flaw: a relatively weak throwing arm. Ironically, Mazzilli lost out on a chance to win an All-Star Game MVP award because of the powerful throwing arm of another player. In the 1979 All-Star Game, Mazzilli entered as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and blasted a game-tying home run, becoming the first player ever to homer in his first All-Star Game at-bat. In the ninth inning he came to bat again and drove in the game-winning run by drawing a bases-loaded walk. Unfortunately, each of his batting feats had immediately followed a half-inning punctuated by right-fielder Dave Parker using the cannon attached to his shoulder to eliminate baserunners. Next to the national debut of Bruce Sutter’s forkball during the 1978 All-Star Game, Dave Parker’s pair of lightning bolts stands as the most vivid All-Star Game memory of my childhood. The voters for the All-Star Game MVP award were similarly amazed, and looked past Mazzilli’s batting heroics to give the award to Parker. Mazzilli never made it to another All-Star game, ensuring that his batting record in the midsummer classic would remain forever flawless.

***

(Love versus Hate update: Lee Mazzilli’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

26 comments

  1. 1.  A Gammons note from 4/12/82:

    “Dave Winfield brazenly went from first to third on Texas left fielder Lee Mazzilli’s arm and afterward said, ‘I can do that any time I want.’ Mazzilli had better be a lot more proficient than a lot of people think he is, what with the Ron Darling-Walt Terrell price the Rangers paid to get him.”


  2. 2.  1 : Pretty good deal for the Mets, considering Terrell was parlayed into Howard Johnson. Mazzilli never seemed to quite fit in the 1980s.

    FYI: Some good comments have been added to the following older posts:

    Dick Pole and Pete Lacock (Behold the Unsortable); Joe Strain (Giants); and Steve Garvey, 1976 (Dodgers).


  3. 3.  2 Make that a great deal for the Mets, even if they held on to Johnson. Darling was a heck of a pitcher and Maz wound up as little more than a pinch-hitter, even came back to the Mets to get a ring in ’86.


  4. 4.  Mazzilli and Apodaca still represent everything about the mid-70′s Mets to me – a team that came off a surprise/magical/sad ’73 season (when I was 7 and first loving baseball) to gradually fade into non-importance as the 70′s wore on. They became filled with “good” players, and forgot that “great” players were important as well…(and this is not meant as a knock on good players)


  5. 5.  4 : Yeah, Mazzilli, the star of those crappy late ’70s Mets teams that I used to go see on summer visits to my dad, has a lot of meaning for me too. Believe it or not I worked off and on all day on the slight post above, most of what I wrote turning out all ass and getting deleted. (I often choke when it’s time to write about the big cards.)


  6. 6.  I still have a pre/early-season ’74 Mets program, and Apodaca and Mazzilli represented our “future” before anyone had any idea what a “prospect” really was, or what “comparative analysis” would ultimately become…but that re-cap of the ’73 season, mixed with glowing descriptions of Apodaca’s and Mazzili’s possible future exploits, made it seem like continued glory was just around the corner…so much for that…

    And I had forgotten that Parker’s throws took the MVP away from him, as those throws are all I remember of that game – and are one of the defining memories of my childhood. Reggie going deep three times is right up there too…even as I rooted against him…

    Anyways, keep up the brilliant work…you are a writer who should be “published” (even if its just here (soon, “just here” will be a selling point)), as your writing is amazing. I await the Cardboard Gods book…


  7. 7.  I first fell in love with baseball watching the incredible (in just about all senses of the word) late 70s Yankees. However, living at the hub of the LIRR line that ran to Shea made visiting Mets games a lot easier for me. So while I’ve never been a Mets fan, I do have a special place in my heart for those horrid post-Seaver, pre-Hernandez teams. Mike Jorgensen, Ron Hodges, Frank Taveras, Nino Espinosa, Steve “Hendu” Henderson, Pat Zachry, the list goes on and on. Lee Mazzili as close as the Metsies came to a star in those awful years. It makes you understand why the hype machine in NY went berzerk over Daryl Strawberry, and why the Mets brought him up so soon.


  8. 8.  Without a doubt, 1979 was the bleakest year in Mets’ history and that’s saying something. It was brutal.

    When Maz came to bat the first time in that All-Star game my dad said, “I’d love to see him pop one out here,” and of course he did, literally — it was a pop-fly HR into the shallowest corner of the Kingdome — but it was huge to me. That his bases-loaded walk in his next turn came off Guidry made it even better. That was the one and only highlight of that miserable year.

    The string of deals that turned Mazzilli into Darling & Hojo are among the best the Mets ever made, but it was also great to have him back as a pinch-hitter with the 86ers: He knew as well as anyone how far they’d come.

    Mazzilli was also:
    * manager of the Orioles
    * Treacherous first-base coach for the Yankees
    * An age-group champion in speed skating
    * No. 1 Mets draft pick in 1973 — the only top Met draft pick in that era to make any kind of impression
    * Restaurantuer (Lee Mazzilli’s Sports Cafe)
    * Actor (Tony & Tina’s wedding)
    * Today, he’s a studio analyst on SNY and considered a candidate for manager if/when Manuel can’t hang on.


  9. 9.  My younger brother and I were at that ASG in person, courtesy of our family’s purchase of what must have been eight zillion Mariners game tickets in order to be put into the “random” drawing for ASG privileges. We took the train up to Seattle from Portland and arrived at Union Station right across the street from where the Kingdome was, at that point. It couldn’t have been more convenient.

    OK, obviously it was a different age, putting two small children (ages 12 and 10) on a four-hour train ride to a strange city to see a baseball game by themselves, but not for nothing did the 1970s rock, and in this final year of the decade, we were going for it, man. David and I had been to Beavers games back in Portland on our own, but that was the Pacific Coast League. This, well, this was the next best thing to World Series tickets. It’s hard to remember, but in the days before SportsCenter and interleague play, the All-Star Game really was special. Living on the West Coast, even NBC’s Game Of The Week didn’t show much besides the ubiquitous Yankees/Red Sox games and then whoever the Dodgers were playing if NBC had time for a doubleheader that weekend. Most of those players really were cardboard gods to us, seen only thanks to Topps and with rare exceptions photos in Sports Illustrated. We were mesmerized by the bright colors of Astros and Twins and Pirates as much as we in awe of the names on the backs of those pullover double-knit jerseys.

    Yes, one Pirate in particular. The Cobra, at the height of his powers (and goodness knows what else), was not a fan favorite in the section we were in, left-center near the rail. He was still a giant in that outfield, even surrounded by the likes of Winfield and Foster, just a huge guy.

    Only a child would besmirch an ASG program by trying to keep score, and while my brother wisely bailed on the effort long before the bottom of the 8th, I was still in there, scribbling away in earnest. The lighting then at the Kingdome WAS terrible, but my eyes had adjusted well enough by that point in the game to see Parker get a fine jump on the single by Nettles and come up firing.

    Wow.

    The whole section was stunned into silence for that moment — no, it seemed longer than a moment, because the ball had so far to travel, but it surely got to its destination in a hurry. Downing was out at the plate, and everyone had to reconcile what they had just seen with the laws of physics as they had been understood up until then. 29 years later, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Mazzilli wasn’t the only one overshadowed at that mid-summer classic.

    And to bring perfect closure to the 1970s (if two years after the decade was technically over), Mazzilli was traded back to New York straight-up for Bucky F Dent. I don’t suspect he buys his own drinks in that town, even to this day. I wonder if he and the Cobra ever cross paths, and what they might say to each other, if they do…?


  10. 10.  Maz has recently returned to the Mets fold as a studio analyst for the team’s television network, SNY:

    http://web.sny.tv/announcers/mets_onair.jsp#mazzilli


  11. 11.  8 : Mazz really could do it all. I vaguely recall the speed-skating thing. One other thing that I don’t think has been mentioned, and which I originally wanted to make a key point of the post, was that Mazzilli was born in New York City. He shoulda been King of New York, but it never quite happened.

    9 : Amen to that thought about the All-Star game’s importance back then, and thanks for the eyewitness account. Really cool.

    The Dent trade was fitting, in a way. As I remember it (and my Mets fan friend Ramblin’ Pete concurs), Dent knocked Mazzilli from the perch of reigning feather-haircutted Chachi-esque sex symbol of baseball when Dent hit his pop fly over the Monster and stripped to his underpants for a disgusting but girl-beloved poster.


  12. 12.  8 Their biggest selling point that year was that they had cute players. One of the more embarrassing chapters in Mets history.


  13. 13.  Maz always reminded me of Go Go Gomez from THE WHITE SHADOW. (Or vice versa.)

    I remember that All-Star Game well, so wanting Lee to get the MVP. (My brother loved Parker, so we had a fight about it.)

    By the way, I’ve been spending the last few hours watching the All-Star parade up Sixth Ave., from out a colleague’s window. Big boos for Big Papi and Francona, big cheers of course for Josh Hamilton, and the whole thing kicked off with such Cardboard Gods Hall of Famers (at least the ones I saw) as Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, George Brett, Hank Aaron, Joe Morgan, Jim Palmer, Reggie Jackson, Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson, Willie McCovey, and Rollie Fingers.

    None of them looked the way they do here, for better and for worse. But I must say that reading Carboard Gods gave me a new perspective on these players.


  14. 14.  13 : Yes, add Gomez to the list of “guys from the seventies and early eighties with dark feathered hair who looked like Lee Mazzilli.” Other members of the list included: Scott Baio; Bucky Dent; Salami’s brother in the White Shadow (nicknamed “New York”); Shatner’s non-Locklear costar in TJ Hooker; Ralph Macchio; and several members of the cast of The Warriors, including members of the Baseball Furies.

    I love a good parade, and I love Former Greats. I wish I could have seen the one going on today.


  15. 15.  Bonehead that I am, I meant New York, Nick Vataglia (Salami’s cousin, played by John Mengatti), not Go Go Gomez.

    And let’s not forget Tony (Scott Colomby) from CADDYSHACK and Tony Danza himself, who is scheduled to play Lee in “a-MAZ-ing: the Story of the 1979 New York Mets.”

    We were up a few stories, but we got Harmon Killebrew and Josh Hamilton to wave at us, which made everyone very happy.


  16. 16.  14 You mean Adrian Zmed (of T.J. Hooker, but also Bachelor Party and Greese 2), who replaced another one (Deney Terrio) as host of Dance Fever, while Terrio choreographed another one (the young John Travolta) in Saturday Night Fever. Maccio and Baio are the closest matches in my book, however.


  17. 17.  16 : I love Zmed’s tendency to follow in the wake of other Mazzillis (e.g., Grease 2, post-Terrio Dance Fever). Add to that the whole aura of sad aftermath (thanks to Captain Kirk’s toupeed presence) of TJ Hooker, and you really get in Adrian Zmed a worthy resident of (Ted) McGinleyville. I’m sure Zmed was also on the Love Boat at some point. He must have been.

    But as for my vote for the president of the Mazzilli nation, I might have to go with the guy from Caddyshack.


  18. 18.  I always thought the Danza-Mazzilli connection was unique to my own diseased brain. I started paying attention to baseball at right around the time Mazz was retiring, so I never knew much of him other than having his 1986 Topps card. But as a youth I did vaguely consider him and Tony Danza to be the same person.


  19. 19.  18 : I know what you mena. When I was very little I thought Pete Rose and Jimmy Connors were the same guy.


  20. 20.  14 Mega-style points for any reference to “The Warriors.”

    “WA-rr-iors! Come out and PLAAA-aaay!”


  21. 21.  And JD Drew matches Mazzilli with a homer in his first All-Star at bat…

    And I love The Warriors, don’t get me wrong, but I’m almost at the point of thinking points should be taken away for references to it–it’s ubiquitous at this point, especially the “come out to play-ee-ay” line. If this crazy point system really does exist, that is.


  22. 22.  Parker’s throw to the plate was high. That play was made by the catcher (Gary Carter, I think). Maz got hosed.

    Glad to see you honor Mazzilli, who seems like the quintessential 1970s player to me. Can you imagine him in 1940s flannel or wearing his socks high like a lot of the players do now? I just can’t see it.


  23. Mazzilli was the poster child for the “Disco Era” METS, where it seemed they were more interested in marketing cheescake players (Mazzilli, Flynn) to compete with Bucky Dent than acutally putting together a good team.

    I remember that All Star game very well. Danny Kaye threw out the first pitch because it was the international year of the child I think.

    I had just become a Pirate fan in April 1979 after giving up on the Mets after they traded Seaver. I saw them on “the game of the week” and I went to a Mets-Pirates game a shea and then that was it I was a Pirates fan.

    I remember Parker making that incredible throw to Carter. Then Mazzilli hit that home run and then got the walk to put the N.L. ahead. So I was happy that a player on my new team (Pirates) had made a great play and a player on my old team (Mets) had also made a great play.

    In retrospect Mazz should have won the MVP award.

    I remember after the game being really happy for Parker and Mazzilli. Then my older sister wanted to out jogging (oh the 70′s) and didn’t want to go alone so I put on my newly purchased plastic replica Pirate batting helment and started running with her. I remember going down the street yelling at the houses that were 90% Yankee fans back then, “Yeah, Parker/Mazzilli number one” “The National League rules!!!!

    Seriously it must have been around midnight on the east coast and I’m yelling like an idiot about Dave Parker and Lee Mazzilli. I’m surprized some neighbor didn’t call the cops on me.

    Mazzilli was still pretty good until 1980 then I don’t know what happened to him in 1981.

    Then in a bizarre twist of fate the Mets actually got the better part of a trade in the Mazzilli-Terrell/Darling trade that eventually became Mazzilli/HO Jo.

    Really, what the hell were the Rangers thinking when they traded two good young pichers for a 1982 Mazzilli??? And then they didn’t even keep him they traded him to the Yankees later that summer??


  24. johnq11:
    I love that image of a kid in a Pirates batting helmet running down the street talking all-star game trash at midnight. Thanks for sharing that.


  25. Josh, this site is awesome! I’m roughly your age (I was born in 1966) and I wish I would have found it last year, it’s bringing back a lot of memories.

    Yeah, those replica plastic batting helmets were a big deal back then. Kids would wear them around town or use them when they played wiffle-ball or stick-ball. Thinking about it now it was kind of dumb. They weren’t very comfortable to wear and they were made of plastic so they never fit very well and then they got very hot during the summer.

    Also, back in those days you couldn’t find team merchandise that wasn’t based on your local team. It’s not like you could just go to the local sporting good shop in the NY area and find a Texas Ranger hat or a San Francisco Giant jersey. Now you can go to Lids or Champs or whatever mass sports-retailer and find all that stuff. But if you had a replica helmet from the Oakland A’s or the San Diego Padres it was like you something extremely exotic and something to be treasured.

    Back then you basically had to go to a major league stadium to get that out of town sports merchandise. I remember around 1978-1979 trying to assemble a collection of all the major league teams in replica helmets.

    I remember going to a game a Shea in 1979 and coming back with a Pirate, Padre, and Astro helmets and to the kids of the neighborhood it was like I brought back treasures from the hills of Africa.


  26. johnq11:

    I hear you. I didn’t collect batting helmets, but I vividly remember the one I got (and loved) at helmet day at Fenway one year. They had those plastic one-size-fits-all machinations inside. And I write elsewhere on this site (Rollie Fingers, I think) about how much I liked having an exotic Padres cap.



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