By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief
FLUSHING – When the time came to put one of New York’s most “amazing” pitchers into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, how many votes do you think he garnered?
Yes, an all-time great New York Mets pitcher was shunned and embarrassed to near epic proportions when he was up for Hall of Fame consideration and this pitcher was often thrust into a subordinate role to one of New York’s most beloved athletes. Even worse? His own team has yet to place his number “36” in a place for infamy, a place numbers are retired forever and ever.
Jerry Koosman would have been the “ace” on nearly every pitching staff in the Major Leagues in the late ’60s and early ’70s, yet he toiled in a subordinate role to Tom “Terrific” Seaver‘s stature, greatness and visibility in the Big Apple. Yet, when it came to his fellow teammates and his own pitching coaches, there was a different story to be told, a story of clutch performance after clutch performance, including his domination in the two most important victories in Mets franchise history. Here is his story and our sincere plea to right a wrong:
There’s a lot of buzz this week as good old folks in the wonderful, quaint enclave of Cooperstown, New York prepare for the July 19-21 induction weekend at the Baseball Hall of Fame. … New York Yankees great Mariano Rivera will be rightfully enshrined into baseball immortality as the greatest “closer” the game has ever seen. Some are even speculating about a future in Cooperstown for a lefty named CC Sabathia and whether he’d be honored as a NY Yankees or Cleveland Indians pitcher.
Joining Rivera will be Harold Baines, Lee Smith, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina, all deserving candidates. In fact, this column is in no way being crafted to dishonor the Class of 2019, Rivera or any other Hall of Famer. It is being crafted to point out an injustice and to hopefully move the needle for two “action items.”
The New York Mets once won their first World Series title when the “Amazin’ Mets” of 1969 upset the Atlanta Braves in the first NLCS ever, and then the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. The great Mets hurler, Tom Seaver, led the team along with Donn Clendenon, Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones and Ron Swoboda. But the reason for the NYM success in ’69 – exactly 50 years ago – was their pitching.
While Seaver anchored the pitching staff, for sure, there were worthy Robins to Seaver’s Batman.
A decent pitcher by the name of Nolan Ryan comes to mind, as does the staff’s No. 3 in Gary Gentry. Relievers Ron Taylor and an upstart named Tug McGraw come to mind as well. They were all wonderful, A-to-B+ pitchers.
The Metsies’ No. 2 is the man behind this column today. His name is Jerry Koosman and he does NOT have his number retired by the New York Mets and he is NOT in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, yet his numbers compare quite well with Sabathia who is being canonized in print as I type. I’m contending that it is Koosman who should have both team and Hall honors and I’m here to tell you why.
Look up career stats and the accomplishments of Philadelphia Phillies great Steve Carlton. Now compare them to Koosman. … Look up the career accomplishments of Chicago Cubs great Fergie Jenkins and compare them to Koosman. For that matter, take a look at Mike Mussina‘s stats and accomplishments and place them side-by-side with Koosman’s. The NYM lefty compares favorably with all of them – even though Carlton is considered one of the greatest of all-time, and Jenkins was the darling of Cubs’ fans everywhere. Both are treated as ROYALTY by their respective franchises. Koosman? Not so much as a No. 36 on the wall. Jack Morris (254-186, .557 and a 3.90 career ERA) of the Detroit Tigers can be reviewed as well.
Fact: Carlton’s ERA with Phila Phillies = 3.09
Fact: Koosman ERA with NY Mets = 3.09
Fact: Jenkins ERA with Chicago Cubs = 3.20
Fact: Roy Halladay – Career ERA = 3.38
Research by #DigSportsDesk
Please take note: None of these comparisons are to say the prior should NOT be in the Hall instead of Koos. In fact, there’s room in the Hall for all. Most importantly – unless the NY Mets’ organization itself places No. 36 with Seaver, Gil Hodges, Casey Stengel, Mike Piazza and the No. 42 honoring MLB color barrier breaker Jackie Robinson of the Dodgers, there’s no starting point for the “bigger step” to be taken by the Vets’ Committee.
It’s that simple! Koosman’s No. 36 needs to be retired by the Mets. His own organization needs to do right by Jerry Koosman and they need to do it this season, as they honor the 50th anniversary of their most important season ever.
With the permission of its authors, Digital Sports Desk will now pass the torch to Irv Goldfarb, a writer for “The Miracle Has Landed, the Amazin’ Story of How the 1969 New York Mets Shocked the World,” and we’ve linked to a wonderful biographical story on Koosman. The details are impeccable and his story complete. The bio, which appeared in 2009 on the 40th anniversary of the Miracle Mets, will appear in the soon-to-be updated book honoring the 50th anniversary of the NYM World Series winners. Here now a few excerpts and a LINK to the full BIO.
Jerome Martin Koosman was born on December 23, 1942, in Appleton, Minnesota. Though some contemporary baseball records listed his birth year as ’43, Koosman later admitted he had fudged his age the first time he lined up on the field after being signed by the Mets. “When the guy next to me said he was 22, they told him he was too old. So I said I was 21.”
The bio goes on … “Koosman cemented himself as the Mets’ number two starter behind future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. NY legend Ron Swoboda said this arrangement made the lefty’s job even harder. “Koosman got a lot of the tough matchups. … Why would you burn your number one guy against the other team’s number one? Koosman was number two, and he got some of the tougher matchups.” Swoboda also marveled at the lefty’s dominance. “He could get that fastball in on right-handers. … Boy, you talk about eat them up! … His stuff was every bit as good as Seaver’s.” …
Continuing … “By year’s end, Koosman had met the challenge. Even in what was known as “The Year of the Pitcher” because of the dominance of pitching, Koosman’s year could compare with that of almost anyone in the National League. He completed his first full major-league season at 19-12 with a dazzling 2.08 ERA and 178 K’s; the wins, ERA, and his seven shutouts broke club records. Koosman defeated every team in the league at least once and came up just short of the NL Rookie of the Year Award, losing out to Reds catcher Johnny Bench by a single vote, the closest tally to that time.
The Mets had reasons for hope for the first time after seven seasons of existence. They had their staff of the future with Seaver, Koosman, and young fireballer Nolan Ryan. Highly touted Gary Gentry was ready to start the year in the rotation. Still, no one could have expected what was to come.
The Mets finished the ’69 season with a record of 100-62. The pitching staff threw a league-leading 28 team shutouts, including six by Koosman, who ended the season at 17-9 with a 2.28 ERA, 180 strikeouts, and a second All-Star appearance. He struck out 15 San Diego Padres in 10 innings on May 28 and piled up 23 consecutive scoreless innings in June. He won eight of his final nine decisions.
As it turned out, the 1969 World Series provided a lifetime of memories. The Mets were heavy underdogs to the Baltimore Orioles, Seaver lost the opener in Baltimore, 4-1, and it was up to Koosman to even the Series against lefty Dave McNally. “My goal from when I was 16 years old was to pitch a perfect game in the World Series,” remembered Koosman.
He came close, entering the seventh inning up 1-0, having allowed but one baserunner. Paul Blair finally got the first Baltimore hit (“I shook off Grote and Blair hit a curveball”), stole second, and scored on a Brooks Robinson single to tie the game.
But light-hitting infielder Al Weis singled in the go-ahead run for the Mets in the ninth with Koosman waiting on deck. Kooz got the first two outs in the bottom of the inning, before walking Frank Robinson and Boog Powell. Hodges brought in righty reliever Ron Taylor to get the last out and the Mets had tied the Series.
Back at Shea, they won Games 3 and 4 behind Seaver and Gentry (along with Nolan Ryan in relief). There were remarkable plays from Agee and Swoboda, plus an errant throw that hit baserunner J.C. Martin’s wrist to bring in the winning run in Game Four and set up the potential clincher. Koosman was set to start Game Five, which as every Mets’ fan knows, he won it in grand fashion and leapt into Grote’s arms after Cleon Jones did the semi-kneel catch in left field for the most enduring memory in franchise history.
Once the Mets were inside the clubhouse, emotions were different. Koosman and Grote sat in front of the catcher’s locker with a few other teammates, just looking at each other. “We were so choked up with emotion we couldn’t talk.” Koosman had posted a 2-0 record in the World Series, with a 2.04 ERA and just seven hits allowed in 17 2/3 innings. It capped off a remarkable season.
Coach Joe Pignatano – he of tomato growing gardens in the bullpen – assessed the situation as others would not: “I think Koosman was a better big-game pitcher for us that year than Seaver.”
Jerry Koosman retired after 19 games in 1985 with a career record of 222-209, 140 complete games, 33 shutouts, and more than 2,500 strikeouts. His career ERA for 19 seasons was 3.36.– Used with permission
The factual and historical bio goes on to illustrate Koosman’s brilliance, all the while pointing-out his Hall of Fame level career efforts, only down-sized by pitching on terrible, terrible teams.
In conclusion here at While We’re Young (Ideas) – in the memory of the Diamond Dust we once read by Dick Young – I am proposing two things…my two “so-called” ACTION steps:
- The New York Mets honor Jerry Koosman by retiring his No. 36
- The baseball fans of New York, and of all of MLB fans everywhere, join us in a campaign to right the wrong of the 1991 Hall of Fame vote when Koosman received ONLY FOUR VOTES. Only FOUR! It is the most egregious vote in Hall of Fame HISTORY. Only FOUR VOTES? How? Who were the only FOUR to get it right? … Koosman should be considered by the Hall’s Veterans’ Committee for his rightful induction this coming year. It starts TODAY!
Koosman earned the two most IMPORTANT victories in New York Mets history – one of them coming UNDER INTENSE PRESSURE after a Tom Seaver loss in Game 1 of the 1969 World Series and the other being the Game 5 series winner.
We’re passing on the usual HERE NOW, THE NOTES section now a regular in this Sunday notes column to begin this plea to do right by Jerry Koosman, I give you a single quote by a loyal New York Mets staffer from the club’s glory years of ’69-’73 and beyond, who said so perfectly, “When Jerry Koosman walked out to the mound for Game 2 with the team down 0-1 in the World Series, we felt pretty good.”
While We’re Young (Ideas) also asks one other question today? Why is a “mic” retired for Ralph Kiner but not for Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy? Please DISCUSS? … And, one last point, if you’re going to parade out the old tax problem argument that landed Koosman in a short jail sentence for botching his Federal tax returns, we ask you to cast the first stone vs any of your neighbors. C’Mon, now.
Digital Sports Desk posts a once-a-week Sunday Notes column, entitled: “While We’re Young Ideas.” It’s a throwback of sorts to the days when sportswriting and the baseball beat were the best jobs in the entire sports industry, maybe the entire world. One of those sportswriters was named Dick Young and he wrote “Young Ideas” with a “Diamond Dust” section for notes and quotes. This is a throwback to the days of sports notes writing. We welcome feedback and suggestions (psst, they call ’em pitches) for mentions within “While We’re Young Ideas” or Digital Sports Desk. Please follow and encourage (at least) another person or two to plug into (@DigSportsDesk) (@WhileYoungIdeas) and (@terrylyons).
Editor’s Note: Koosman biographer Irv Goldfarb signed up with SABR in 1999, making the Negro League Committee the first group he joined. He has since contributed to numerous SABR publications, including Deadball Stars of the AL and NL; The Miracle Has Landed; and The Fenway Project. Irv has worked with ABC Television and lives with his wife Mercedes and their furry “kids” Lolo and Consuelo in Union City, New Jersey. All are New York Met fans.