Saturday, October 10, 2009

DON ROSE (September 15, 1971)

The third member of the one-game "Moonlight Graham" Mets was Donald Gary Rose. Don would make a single appearance in New York, but unlike his two predecessors he would continue his major league career. Just not with the Mets.

Rose was drafted by the New York Mets in the 11th round of the 1968 amateur draft. He progressed through the minor league system until he found himself starting the season with the Tidewater Tides. Don pitched the entire 1971 minor league season with that AAA club. He would throw in 31 games, winning 11 games (three of which were shutouts), and finishing with a nice 3.33 ERA. This strong showing earned him his first major league promotion when the Mets expanded rosters that September.

September 15, 1971. The New York Mets had just hosted a double-header against the Montreal Expos the previous day and now were scheduled to play two against the Chicago Cubs. Imagine double-headers on consecutive days at Shea Stadium. The Mets had lost the first game to the Cubs 6-2 and handed the ball to Tug McGraw to salvage the second game of the twin-bill. Chicago countered with a rookie pitcher named Burt Hooton. The Cubs were rolling through the first five innings of the contest with Hooton firing a no-hitter with a 2-0 lead.

In the bottom of the sixth inning manager Gil Hodges pinch-hit Dave Marshall for the pitcher McGraw. He grounded out to first base unassisted and the next two batters struck out. After having used a multitude of pitchers over the multiple double-headers Hodges brought the young pitcher, Don Rose into the game with the Mets still trailing by two.

The first Chicago batter of the seventh inning was shortstop, Hector Torres. Rose retired him on a ball chopped in front of the plate that the catcher, Duffy Dyer fielded and threw to first base. One out, and Rose had made his Major League and New York Mets debut. Don had little time to feel good about it though as the next batter Ken Rudolph drove a ball to left field for a double. The opposing pitcher Burt Hooton was next, and quickly struck out. Cubs leadoff hitter Cleo James followed him and grounded out to second base to end the inning.

The Mets tied the score at 2-2 in their half of the seventh on a two run home run by Ken Singleton. So when Don Rose returned to the mound it was the first time the Mets had not trailed all day. Cubs leftfielder, Carmen Fanzone popped up to the catcher in foul ground. Dyer made the catch and there was one away. Light-hitting Paul Popovich grounded out to the first baseman unassisted for the second out of the inning. Things were looking good for Don when Ron Santo came to the plate. The scrappy third baseman lined a pitch into right field for a base hit. However he became the third out of the inning when he was thrown out trying to advance to second base. The Cubs were retired and Rose had preserved the deadlock.

In the bottom of the eight the Mets pinch hit Cleon Jones for Don Rose, and ended his afternoon. His total of two scoreless innings had placed the team in a good spot until New York closer, Danny Frisella gave up a game winning pinch-hit homerun to Billy Williams in the 9th inning of the game. The Mets had just lost the second game of the day to the Chicago Cubs 3-2. Burt Hooton picked up his first career win with a 15 strikeout performance.

Don Rose was involved in what is considered one of the worst trades in baseball history. The New York Mets dealt him along with Francisco Estrada, Leroy Stanton, and the great Nolan Ryan to the California Angels for third baseman, Jim Fregosi on December 10, 1971. Don Rose would pitch for the Angels in 1972. On May 24th in Oakland he would finally receive the chance to come to the plate to hit. Remember Rose had been lifted for a pinch hitter in his lone Mets game a year earlier. In his first major league at-bat he hit a homerun off Athletics starter, Diego Segui.

Don Rose signed and dated this baseball and cards from an autograph request sent to his home address on October 10,2009.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

FRANCISCO ESTRADA (September 14, 1971)

It is more than a bit ironic that the second man in New York Mets team history to only appear in a single game would be Francisco “Paquín” Estrada. His lone game in Major League Baseball is such a small part of his much larger story. Paquín’s professional baseball career started in his native Mexico during the summer of 1966. It was the first of 26 seasons catching in the Mexican League. He added an additional 30 seasons in the Mexican Pacific winter league. So unlike many baseball professionals Paquín played essentially year round. This dedication easily established Estrada as the man to appear in more games as a catcher than anyone else in pro baseball history. Amassing an astonishing 4,000 games behind the plate.

Francisco Estrada Soto was born on February 12, 1948 in Navojoa in the state of Sonora. His father was Francisco Estrada Martinez. That is likely the source of his name “Paquín” which is Spanish for “Frankie”. While Estrada was with the Red Devils of the Mexican League the team asked him to join the New York Yankees during spring training camp in 1968. It was his first exposure to baseball in the United States. He would not return until November 30, 1970. On that day the New York Mets acquired him from Mexico City in a trade for Cuban catcher, Orlando McFarlane and cash considerations. Paquín was invited to spring training camp with the Mets that following April. An old problem resurfaced then that had plagued him during his previous time with the Yanks in Fort Lauderdale. It was his inability to speak English. A story printed in the St. Petersburg Times told that Estrada reported to the Mets camp a week late because he had gotten lost, and that Dominican infielder, Ted Martinez had even rescued him in a Miami airport. Quite a humble beginning for the man who had help secure the 1968 Mexican League Championship.

The start of the 1971 season found Paquín assigned to Double-A Memphis. He earned a mid-season promotion to Triple-A Tidewater where he continued to progress. At the close of the Tides season the Mets added him to the major league roster, and brought him to New York.

September 14, 1971. Estrada remembers waking up at 6 A.M that morning. The Mets were hosting a double header that day against the Montreal Expos. His flight arrived at LaGuardia Airport and once again Paquín found himself not certain what to do. His fortunes changed quickly when he hailed a cab operated by a Spanish speaking man from Cuba. The driver was able to tell him Shea Stadium was nearby.

Nolan Ryan was the starting pitcher for the Mets in the first game that day. “The Express” was not what he would become later and showed it in this performance. Nolan could not make it out of the second inning and had yielded six earned runs. Ron Taylor relieved him and matched the six earned runs during his three innings plus of work. So with the score a laughable 12-0 in favor of the Expos the Mets manager, Gil Hodges thought nothing of calling on his new catcher to spell star Jerry Grote. This way he saves backup catcher, Duffy Dyer for the second game of the afternoon.

Estrada came into the game in the top of the sixth inning. He was catching relief pitcher, Charlie Williams. Paquín had never had the opportunity to catch Williams before on any team. So no real surprise that even the sure handed receiver allowed a passed ball on the fifth Expos’ batter of that inning. Not in the manner he wanted to but, he was now in the next day’s box score.

Bill Stoneman, Montreal’s pitcher, was throwing well that afternoon. So when Estrada finally got his chance to step to the plate it was with two outs, and nobody on in the seventh inning. Francisco got his pitch to hit and laced a line drive single over the shortstop’s head into left field. (It would be one of only four hits the Mets would muster that entire game.) The next batter, Ted Martinez ended the threat and recorded the third out retiring the side.

As blow-outs often do the game passed by uneventfully until the bottom of the ninth inning. New York assembled a sort of mini rally and scored one run on a pair of hits from Wayne Garrett and Dave Marshall. Then with two outs and, one on, Paquín came to the plate. Without much fanfare he grounded out to end the game that day. Little did he know that would be the end of his one game Major League career.

Francisco Estrada was involved in what is considered one of the worst trades in baseball history. The New York Mets dealt him along with Don Rose, Leroy Stanton, and the great Nolan Ryan to the California Angels for third baseman, Jim Fregosi on December 10, 1971. Paquín continued to play in the United States until 1973, but would never again appear in a major league game. He returned to Mexico, where he had been playing winter ball all along. Estrada won three additional championships in Mexico during 1979, 1983 and 1990. The last two accomplished during his hugely successful managerial career. In fact the combination led to his entrance into “Salon de la Fama del Beisbol” (the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame) and the title of “El Paquín” in his native country.

Francisco Estrada signed this baseball and card for me in March 2006. From a request sent to the Arizona training camp for WBC Team Mexico when he was manager.