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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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What's the Story, Jerrys?

This cold February day requires a box score to keep us warm. Thus, I shall toss upon the fire the box score from the first game of a twinight doubleheader at Shea Stadium, September 22, 1967, courtesy of Baseball Reference. It describes an 8-0 loss by the Mets to the Houston Astros, but I won’t hold that against it.

This box score appeals to me for four reasons in particular:

1. Jerry Koosman started. It was the second start of Koosman’s career. The first one, a 4-3 loss at Houston five days earlier, was encouraging: 2 runs, 6 hits (if 5 walks) in 7 innings. In a season that turned into an open tryout camp — 54 Mets saw action in 1967 — Kooz’s initial audition showed promise. The second one, unfortunately, showed nothing. After retiring the side in order in the first, Kooz lost control in the top. He walked Doug Rader to start the second inning. After Rusty Staub reached on a bunt (try to picture that), Bob Aspromonte walked to load the bases. Ron Brand walked to force Rader home with the first run of the game. Lee Bales singled home Staub. Aspromonte followed behind him when Tommy Davis mishandled Bales’s hit in left. It was 3-0, runners on first and second, nobody out — except Koosman, who was removed from the game at once by skipper Salty Parker, running his first game as interim manager upon perpetually beleaguered Wes Westrum’s resignation the day before.

2. Jerry Grote caught Jerry Koosman and presumably grumbled a lot at the three walks. He’d catch Cal Koonce, who would get out of the inning with no further damage, and then Bill Graham and Joe Grzenda, both of whom inflicted plenty of damage. It was 8-0 by the time Grote (batting .194) left in the seventh to rest up for the nightcap.

3. Jerry Buchek replaced Buddy Harrelson at short in the sixth. Buddy’d had a bad early evening, going 0-for-2 and committing an error on a grounder from Rader that led to a four-run fifth. Though the horse was long out of the barn and spotted galloping toward Corona, Buchek acquitted himself well, handling three ground balls, pivoting on a 3-6-1 double play in the ninth and singling in two at-bats.

4. Jerry Hinsley came on to pitch the final three innings after Greg Goossen pinch-hit for Grzenda in the sixth. He gave up three singles and walked one Astro but allowed no further scoring. This was Hinsley’s second appearance of the 1967 season; he hadn’t pitched for the Mets since 1964, when as the leading edge of the franchise’s Youth of America brigade, he made the big club out of Spring Training as a 19-year-old. Hinsley got into nine games that April and May, two as a starter. With an 0-2 record and an ERA of 8.22, Hinsley was soon enough shuffled off to Buffalo. He spent the rest of 1964, all of 1965 and 1966 and most of 1967 moored in the minors.

There you have it: One Mets box score, four guys named Jerry.

Keep in mind, the Mets have had only nine Jerrys play for them in their entire history — not counting 1966 pitcher Gerry Arrigo; 1975 catcher Jerry Moses, whose brief Met tenure failed to net him one iota of playing time; nor, obviously, 2008-10 manager Jerry Manuel. Nine Jerrys, and 44.4% of them peppered Salty Parker’s debut.

In case you’re wondering — and I’d be disappointed if you weren’t — the others, all post-1967, were, in chronological order, Jerry May (backup catcher, 1973), Jerry Cram (relief pitcher, 1974-75), Jerry Morales (marginal spare outfielder, 1980), Jerry Martin (ineffective pinch-hitter, 1984) and Jerry DiPoto (unreliable reliever, 1995-96). The falloff in Jerry quality since the joyful days of Koosman and Grote speaks for itself, but the falloff in volume of Jerrys makes me think Jerry has peaked as a boy’s name in this country.

And you know what? It has. In 2009, it was the 371st most-popular baby boy name given in the United States, plunging from No. 319 in 2008. Plot that on a graph and it probably parallels the line that indicates the plunge the Mets took under Jerry Manuel during the same period.

But there was a time when parents really wanted Jerrys. According to the Social Security Administration, Jerry was the No. 14 name for baby boys born in the U.S. in 1940 and 1941. Then we went to war, and Jerry fell into steady decline. It was last a Top 20 name in 1947, a Top 50 name in 1971 and a Top 100 name in 1982. (And it never ranked higher than No. 194 during the years Seinfeld was a bona fide hit.) Demographically, the composition of the 1967 Mets Jerry much makes sense: Buchek, Grote and Koosman were all born in 1942, when Jerry was still going strong, at No. 16. By comparison, Jerry the Last — DiPoto — was born in 1968, when Jerry had slipped out of the Top 40 for good.

By then, Jerry Koosman and Jerry Grote were establishing themselves as Met mainstays — 1968 National League All-Stars, in fact. Jerry Buchek, meanwhile, was completing his second season as a Met utilityman, though he never again had as great a day as September 22, 1967…the second game of that twinight doubleheader versus the Astros. The Mets recovered big-time from the 8-0 whitewashing, and their nightcap shortstop was the main reason.

Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Jerry Buchek launched a two-out, three-run homer off Carroll Sembera to give the Mets a 5-4 lead. Being the ultimately 61-101 1967 Mets, it proved a short-lived edge. Jack Fisher, phased out of the rotation after serving as a Met starting stalwart since 1964, was pitching in relief of Dick Selma (who had been pitching in relief of starter Tug McGraw, who had struck out 10 Astros in 6 innings). Fisher got two Astro outs and was one batter from recording his second Met save in four seasons when catcher Dave Adlesh singled home Staub from second to knot the score at five.

The Mets would go quietly in their half of the ninth. In the Houston tenth, Ron Taylor would give up three line drives, but each was caught in the infield. Then, in the home tenth, with two Mets down, Bob Johnson doubled, Cleon Jones walked and Jerry Buchek stepped up and blasted his second two-out, three-run homer of the game, this one a walkoff job. The Mets won 8-5, giving Parker his first managerial triumph (Salty would finish out the 1967 season 4-7 before giving way to Gil Hodges). Buchek’s six RBI amounted to a personal peak. He’d spend most of the following year on the Met bench before being traded to the Cardinals in December 1968.

Though Jerry Buchek might seem to have suffered from unfortunate timing, missing spending 1969 in the company of Jerry Koosman and Jerry Grote in pursuit of the then-unimaginable, it surely beat the career trajectory experienced by Jerry Hinsley. When he mopped up those final three innings in the first game of September 22, 1967, he didn’t know he was getting, at age 22, his last shot at the majors.

Jerry Hinsley wouldn’t pitch for the Mets again. He wouldn’t pitch above Triple-A again for anybody. The Mets gave him his first big chance before he was ready, making him “the Mets’ first beardless wonder,” as Bill Ryczek put it in The Amazing Mets, 1962-1969. In retrospect, he was never ready.

Not altogether unlike young Dwight Gooden in 1984 and young Jenrry Mejia in 2009, Hinsley dazzled his manager in exhibition games in 1964. His Florida performance led Casey Stengel to argue to George Weiss that he had to have Jerry Hinsley on his team, even though the kid was barely 19, even though he had thrown zero minor league innings previously. The Mets had drafted Hinsley off the Pirates’ minor league roster when you could do that pretty easily. He had been a highly regarded high school phenom whom the Mets liked enough to keep an eye on his availability. Stengel liked him enough to give him first start in May.

Hinsley was lit up by the Cardinals, but Casey would give him the ball again, against the Giants. It came, however, with a caveat. He had to knock down Willie Mays in the first inning; it was a finable offense if he didn’t. So Hinsley, the 19-year-old rookie, sent Mays, the premier superstar in the sport, sprawling as directed.

“Mays was so intimidated,” Ryczek wrote, “he was barely able to struggle to his feet and hit a triple.”

Willie told Hinsley the next day that a) you need a couple of years in this league before you can throw at the likes of me; b) you should throw at a batter’s back if you mean to hit him; but c) you throw at his head if your intent is just to knock him down.

“I said, ‘Thank you, Mr. Mays,’” Hinsley recalled for Ryczek. “I’ll remember that.”

Hinsley didn’t get much opportunity to put Willie Mays’s advice to practical use for the Mets. He saw no more starts and only two more relief appearances before he was dispatched to the minors. While pitching for Double-A Williamsport in 1965, a line drive from Red Sox prospect Reggie Smith broke his jaw (karma’s repayment for knocking down Mays?). He told Ryczek his pitching wasn’t affected, but while 1966 Jacksonville Suns teammates like Tom Seaver were getting called up to New York, Hinsley continued to toil in the minors. His return to Shea came, finally, on September 8, 1967, with two difficult innings versus St. Louis. Then, the doubleheader opener, September 22, against the Astros.

Then that was it.

Jerry Hinsley’s last batter faced was Houston pitcher Mike Cuellar…the same Mike Cuellar who would, as a Baltimore Oriole, throw the first pitch of the first World Series game the Mets would ever play just over two years later. Jerry Hinsley, 24 (not quite five months younger than Tom Seaver), was a distant speck in the Mets’ rearview mirror by October 11, 1969. He pitched in the Mets organization in 1968, followed with a couple of years in Cleveland’s, and then pitched for Jacksonville again when the Suns were an unaffiliated Southern League franchise in 1971. Alas, Jerry Hinsley’s professional ledger lapses at age 26 — a shame on many levels, though one in particular when you stare at enough box scores in an effort to keep warm:

Jerry Hinsley never pitched in a winning game in the majors.

He pitched in eleven games for the Mets and the Mets lost all of them. That’s an 0-11 Met record when Jerry Hinsley’s name shows up in the box score. According to the Baseball Musings Day by Day Database, only one other Met shares that precise dubious distinction: Joe Grzenda…the same Joe Grzenda whom Jerry Hinsley relieved in the first game of the Mets-Astros twinight doubleheader of September 22, 1967. And only one Met exceeds that mark of team futility; only one Met, with a team record of 0-14, managed to cram more unalleviated losing into his battered Met portfolio.

That was yet another Jerry — Jerry Cram, who, on August 11, 1974, relieved in a game started by Jerry Koosman. Both pitchers were caught by Jerry Grote, who presumably grumbled quite a lot as the Mets fell behind 10-0 en route to losing 10-4 to the Reds at Shea. It was the last time the Mets crammed as many as three Jerrys into a single box score.

Which, as established above, remains one Jerry shy of the team record.

22 comments to What’s the Story, Jerrys?

  • boldib

    Nice piece.

    Wow – Bob Aspromonte, Doug Rader, a young Staub – bunting! I wish I still had those baseball cards.

    1st game I ever attended. Mets/Colt 45′s at Shea. Staub and Aspromonte were playing. I think Rader came later.
    Good ballplayer

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jason Fry, Greg Prince. Greg Prince said: What's the story, Jerrys? Only Faith and Fear in Flushing dares ask. #Mets http://wp.me/pKvXu-22f [...]

  • Ken K.

    You mean Seinfeld never played for the
    Mets???

  • nestornajwa

    And if you showed your union card and knew the name and model of the appliance you were looking for, Jerry could get it for you wholesale. That’s the stooooory.

    Thanks for that.

  • whogotnext

    Great piece. Thanks.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    A platoon player acquired in a trade with the Cardinals toward the end of spring training 1967, Buchek started off hot and become the Mets everyday second baseman until fizzling out as the season progressed.

    But I will always have a fond place in my heart for Jerry Buchek. During the early part of 1967 there was a Met rainout so a beat reporter looking for something to write about asked players which team they would like to be with. Some said Pittsburgh, others L.A., etc., except for Buchek – he said he wouldn’t want to play anywhere else because the Mets gave him the chance to become an everyday player. Sounded just like his predecessor Ron Hunt who cried when learning he had been traded to the Dodgers for Tommy Davis.

    • Nice pledge of allegiance for a guy who grew up a Cardinals fan. On the flip side, I’m a little distressed not every Met said “Mets,” if just to give the illusion they were thrilled to be Mets. Or was it understood in the depths of 1967 that of course a player would rather go to a contender?

      • Joe D.

        One who didn’t hide how estatic he was to his leave the early Mets and head to a contender was Jesse Gonder. I’ll never forget his sarcastic remarks when asked if he felt sad leaving the Mets upon learning he had been traded to the Milwaukee Braves in 1965 (during the heat of a four-team pennant race). They included something like who wouldn’t be happy leaving here and feeling sorry for the mates who had to stay behind.

  • Will in Central NJ

    I honestly remember in the barren 1992-93 period, as we watched from the Upper Reserved, some class-clown type would shriek during a Jeff Torborg pitching change, “Oh NO! Another JEFF!” In from the bullpen would trot Jeff Innis; waiting on the mound with Torborg would be some combination of Jeff Kent, Jeff McKnight, and Jeff Gardner. Hey, during that stretch of Met history, you took whatever entertainment you could, up in the red seats….

    • Joe D.

      Where there more people on the mound then with you in the red seats?

    • And then they compounded it with Jeff Foxworthy Night:

      “If you’re sitting alone in the Upper Deck watching Anthony Young lose yet another game, you might be a Mets fan.”

      • Will in Central NJ

        Hey, sitting alone in the Upper Deck had its benefits. During our occasional rallies with Ryan Thompson or Joe Orsulak stepping to the plate, you could chant “Let’s go Mets” while rhythmically slamming adjacent empty seats, up and down. One seat in each hand, mind you.

        Sadly, those days of empty seats may be back upon us…sigh.

  • mikeski

    Jerry DiPoto (unreliable reliever, 1995-96)

    In my house, we always called him Jerry DiPenis.

  • [...] corps didn’t necessarily have it so good — witness the long and winding road to obscurity for 1964 teen dream Jerry Hinsley — leading one to wonder how much better off the most callow mid-‘60s Mets might have been had [...]